There was a scene in Star Trek VI (spoilers ahead), right after the conspirators had fired upon the Klingon Chancellor’s ship, that Commander Chekov asked Captain Kirk whether he should raise the Enterprise’s shields. Kirk didn’t actually end up raising the shields, and at this point you should probably just go watch the movie…it was actually a very good Star Trek movie overall, much better than the previous one where Kirk finds “God.”
Why is this relevant? Well…
Giants are out on Shields, never in on Scherzer and still trying to work a deal on Zobrist according to sources
— Jim Bowden (@JimBowden_ESPN) January 3, 2015
That would be James Shields, one of the top free agent pitching targets left and one that has rejected the qualifying offer. The Chicago Cubs have not actually forfeited a draft pick (yet) this offseason in their free agent shopping, which means if they choose to, they would only lose the second round pick (first round pick is protected). But will they want to? That is something that Cubs Twitter was discussing shortly after Jim Bowden’s tweet.
My opinion is that the Cubs shouldn’t commit big money to a pitcher, even one as durable as Shields, who is entering his age 33 season after logging a billion miles on his arm. Now, free agent signings can last well into the new year, sometimes into spring training. In extreme situations, as both Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales found out last year, the player might have to wait until after the draft to sign in order to remove the specter of draft pick compensation. I don’t think Shields will wait until after the draft, because that doesn’t make sense for a pitcher of his caliber (just throwing that out there).
I do think that the market could potentially shrink or bottom out enough that a team like the Cubs MIGHT consider taking a shot, say if the asking price tops out at four years and around $16MM per season. The Cubs have been known to prefer getting another starting pitcher, and whether that’s through free agency or trade remains to be seen. We also know that with the depth that the front office has built up to fill out the roster, they don’t have to add, which gives the Cubs options and some leverage. I also wonder if Shields would be willing to take the “pillow” contract like Ervin Santana did last year before signing a longer term deal with the Twins this offseason; this will also allow the Cubs to extend the QO after 2015 assuming Shields has a good year and pocket a draft pick. Either the one-year option (around the QO’s value of $15.3MM) or a four-year-or-less deal at about the same annual average value would make sense for the Cubs, but that point may be moot as 1. Shields may not want to go that low and 2. the Cubs may prefer their contingency plans anyway (discussed shortly).
This brings us to the other part of Bowden’s tweet, which discusses the real-life Bugs Bunny player, Ben Zobrist. As far as I can tell, Zobrist is able to play every position on the diamond except for pitcher or catcher (though it might be fun for a team to let him do that as a retirement game gift haha). We do know that the Rays are interested in trading Zobrist, but his 2015 team option is very affordable and because of the versatility, the Rays can just play him anywhere even if they add other players. Therefore, despite his age (he’ll be entering his age-34 season), his impending free agency (after 2015 season) and other would-be red flags, Zobrist is still a valuable commodity and the Rays have some leverage of their own. Cubs Twitter was abuzz with thoughts of Zorilla in the Mist over the past week, but again, I believe that the Cubs can wait.
The reason is because of what Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said during the winter meetings:
“We’re aware of what we’re growing,” Epstein said. “We haven’t given up any of our most significant prospects in these deals. We haven’t given up a draft pick in any of these deals. We’ve preserved our future.
“That’s always going to be something that’s important to us, because we’re trying to build towards a long run where we can have success year-in, year-out. We’re not going to sacrifice that.”
Theo and Jed Hoyer have always been transparent about their vision and plans (even if we don’t know the minutiae) and we have to take Theo at his word. They simply won’t give up draft picks if they don’t need to (which rules out James Shields) and they won’t trade for a one-year player (which rules out Zobrist). This is wise not just because of what was quoted above with regards to preserving the future, but also because of who is available in free agency after 2015.
The list of players who are available also includes Zobrist, so the choice is whether to give up legitimate assets now and get Zobrist for 2015, or just pay money and perhaps forfeit an as-yet-unknown draftee to get Zobrist for 2016. The list also includes some players that the Cubs didn’t trade for:
You might recognize some of these guys as outfielders (a Cubs need in case the prospects crap out) and as players that have been bandied around in trade speculation discussions. Instead of giving up prospects, for the 2015-2016 season, it would just be money (hopefully more of it thanks to Mr. Jumbotron, whenever they get those bleachers built up) and a draft pick that the Cubs would probably have given up anyway.
The list also includes a LOT of interesting pitchers, including:
- Johnny Cueto
- Doug Fister
- Yovani Gallardo (I know some folks don’t like him, but just listing him as an option)
- Zack Greinke (if he opts out of his Dodgers contract)
- Scott Kazmir
- Ian Kennedy
- Mat Latos
- Mike Leake
- Rick Porcello
- David Price
- Jeff Samardzija
- Jordan Zimmermann
Again, guys that the Cubs COULD have traded for now, but next offseason, it’s just money and a draft pick.
We might be impatient, but maybe it does make sense to wait a year. Besides, who says that Joe Maddon magic can’t help the current crop of Cubs compete in 2015?