So the Back to the Future II movie prediction didn't come true—the Chicago Cubs aren't going to win the World Series this year. However, for once, the "wait 'til next year" meme doesn't seem as tiring. For this Cubs team is, for the most part, young and seemingly has a bright future ahead of them. But like almost all teams, they need more pitching.
Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein recently indicated that the Cubs would pursue "quality pitching." But there are a number of ways to get it. Free agency is certainly one of those ways, and, as Theo points out, sometimes you have to go that route even though it may be somewhat risky.
"I'm not sure what direction we're going to go in yet," Epstein explained. "Free-agent pitching is a necessary evil at times. And it's only evil because it's inherently risky. But it's necessary because you can make an impact right away."
Epstein went on to say that "We need quality pitching...I'm not going to rule anything out or anything in, except to say whether it's through trade or free agency we'd like to add one quality pitcher this winter."
Recognizing that, here are some of the trade and free agent candidates the Cubs may be considering this winter.
David Price: Price, 30, is the biggest fish in the free agent waters, and the current scuttlebutt is that he may fetch upwards of 25-30 million per season over more than five years. In other words, he will likely approach or surpass Max Scherzer’s massive 2015 contract (seven years, $210 million).
Personally, I feel that is too rich for the Cubs blood. Not that they can’t afford it; rather, I don’t believe they want to put all of the eggs in that one basket, despite Joe Maddon’s previous connection to the dominating southpaw.
Zack Greinke: Greinke, 32, will be joining the free agent pool once he declines his 2016 option with the Dodgers, so he will be another hot commodity. With three years and $71 million remaining on his current contract, opting out is a no-brainer. And the timing couldn’t be better for Greinke, who may be the Cy Young award winner, with a 1.66 ERA that led all of the baseball this season.
While Greinke’s average annual salary will probably be in the same ballpark as Price, the Cubs may be more interested in the shorter contract length it may take to sign him. Plus, he would prefer to stay in the NL, because he likes to hit.
Johnny Cueto: Unlike Greinke, Cueto’s timing isn’t all that ideal. He struggled after being traded to the Royals, and was beat down by the Blue Jays in the ALCS.
Still, he had a four year window in which he went 53-25 with a 2.48 ERA. He led the NL in strikeouts in 2014. Meanwhile, he is younger than Greinke. At 29, the Cubs would be paying for more than just decline years if they were to sign Cueto.
Jordan Zimmermann: The tall righty may interest the Cubs more than the previously mentioned studs, because he should come with a more affordable price tag.
Zimmermann turns 30 in May, so he has plenty of good years left. His ERA was a full run higher in 2015 than 2014, and some of Theo’s analytical people may not like the trend they are seeing.
His strikeouts were down and his walks up, although his control was still very good. His xFIP (3.82) was higher than his ERA (3.66).
Jeff Samardzija: The Cubs know Shark very well, of course, and while they tried to sign him when he pitched on the north side, his demands far outweighed what the Cubs viewed him as.
Well, as it turns out the Cubs appear to have been right, as he has not blossomed into the ace he thought he was going to become.
But he has a strong arm and is a workhorse and tough competitor and perhaps Theo would like to see what Chris Bosio could do with him. He should come with a more modest cost, despite being a Scott Boras client, after his rough 2015 campaign.
Mike Leake: Leake turns 28 in November, so he also has age on his side. Leake told CSN that he doesn't expect his free agency status to drag on. “I’d rather not wait,” he told the media. “I’d like to pick a team and get ready to go with that team.” If nothing else, Leake is consistent, having pitched to a 3.70 ERA two seasons in a row. And he has been durable—averaging 31 starts and 200 innings per year over the past three seasons.
Scott Kazmir: Like Leake, since Kazmir was traded during the season, he cannot be given a qualifying offer, so the Cubs wouldn't have to surrender a draft pick to sign the lefty, who turns 32 in January. He struggled down the stretch with Houston (6.52 ERA in six September starts), but overall pitched to a fine 3.10 ERA on the season.
Yovani Gallardo: Once an ace for the Brewers, Gallardo, 29, pitched well for the Rangers in 2015. In 33 starts covering 184.1 innings, he had a 3.42 ERA (4.00 FIP) to go along with a 13-11 record. He is durable, having started at least 30 games over the past seven seasons.
John Lackey: Lackey, 37, is the elder statesman of the bunch, though he pitched well for the Cardinals in 2015. The big righty pitched to a 2.77 ERA , though advanced metrics didn't like him quite as much (3.57 FIP).
Hisashi Iwakuma: Iawkuma is also starting to get a bit long in the tooth, as he will turn 35 next April. In 20 starts for the Mariners, he had a 3.54 ERA (3.74 FIP). Though it may not have much significance to this discussion, he did toss a no-hitter in August. That game also happened to be his first career complete game.
Padres: Tyson Ross/Ian Kennedy: The Cubs reportedly went hard after Ross at the trade deadline, but didn’t like what the Padres were asking for in return. Maybe they could revisit this scenario for either Ross or even Ian Kennedy.
Ross will start the season at age 28. The right-hander went 10-12 with a 3.26 ERA and 212 K’s in 196 IP. He did lead the NL in walks, however, with 84.
Kennedy, who turns 31 in December, took a big step backward in 2015 following a solid 2014 season. He was 9-15 with a 4.28 ERA in 2015, fanning 174 while walking 52 in just over 168 innings.
Both Ross and Kennedy are arbitration-eligible. Ross earned 5.25M last year, and has two years of team control left. Kennedy, who can become a free agent after next season, made 9.85M in 2015.
Perhaps a straight-up trade of Javier Baez for Ross would get it done. Kennedy should come a bit cheaper in trade following his below average season. Wins and losses are a bad way to judge the value of a pitcher, of course, but Kennedy did win 21 games with Arizona in 2011 for what it's worth.
Indians: Carlos Carrasco/Danny Salazar: Cleveland is said to be looking for a bat and possibly willing to trade pitching. We don’t know that these guys are on the market or that the Cubs would have what they want in return anyway.
But the 28 year old Carrasco was 14-12 with a 3.63 ERA and 216 Ks in 183.2 IP in 2015 while Salazar, 26 in January, went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and 195 Ks in 185 IP.
Cleveland reportedly wants an everyday bat and a prospect in return. The Cubs have prospects, but who would be the other piece? Perhaps a three-team deal would work.
Nationals: Stephen Strasburg: Strasburg has been rumored to be on the block at various times, and while he carries risk, his upside is tremendous. For the Cubs, comparisons to Kerry Wood can be had. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe is among those who have reported that the 27 year old might be available.
Strasburg was limited to 23 starts this season with a left oblique strain.
Strasburg is entering his final year of arbitration and will be a free agent after 2016. The injury-prone 27 year old went 11-7 with a 3.46 ERA in 2015. He had 155 Ks in 127.1 IP. He was especially good in September.
So what would it take to get him? Starlin Castro and CJ Edwards might do it. Remember, any team acquiring his services would have only one year of control left, and he’s a Boras client, so the Nats can’t expect too much in return.