Theo and Jed Progress Report, Part 2: MLB Free Agents and other non-trade acquisitions

Theo and Jed Progress Report, Part 2: MLB Free Agents and other non-trade acquisitions

The Cubs aren't going to go big in free agency.   We've seen what happened in the latter portion of the Jim Hendry/Tribune era.  The Cubs spent $300M and didn't win a playoff game.  Even worse, it allowed them a short window of success that is now being followed by a longer window of decline.

There will be a time to spend on free agency.  That time isn't now.  The Cubs are still tearing down the rotting house, while beginning to rebuild the foundation.  Now is not the time to get add the fancy extensions and add-ons,but trust me, that will happen once everything else is in place.

When grading the front office here, we'll be looking at the MLB contracts, waiver claims, Rule 5 picks, and those signed to minor league deals whose contracts were later selected by the big league club.  And, as implied, we have to take into consideration that the Cubs should not be signing the Prince Fielders and Albert Pujols of the baseball world.  At least not yet.

What the Cubs will be doing for 2013 is signing stopgaps and flyers, much as they did for 2013.  They'll also sign guys who aren't ready to help the team right away. Interestingly, two of the Cubs players signed to MLB contracts are still in Peoria.

Let's take a look at the major league free agent signings and whether they accomplished the Cubs goals...

(All contract information is from Cot's Baseball Contracts)

  • David DeJesus, OF: 2 years/$10M (2012-13), plus 2014 club option ($6.5M  w/$1.5M buyout)
  • Paul Maholm, LHP: 1 year/$4.75M (2012), plus 2013 club option (6.5M)
  • Sean Camp, RHP: 1 year/$0.55M (2012)
  • Manny Corpas, RHP: No info
  • Joe Mather, OF-!F: 1 year/$0.49M (2012)
  • Luis Valbuena, IF: 1 year/$0.4952M (2012)
  • Adrian Cardenas, IF-OF: No info
  • Lendy Castillo, RHP: 1 year/$0.48M (2012)
  • Jorge Soler, RF: 9 years/$30M (2012-20)
  • Gerardo Concepcion, LHP: 5 years/$6M (2012-16)
  • Reed Johnson, OF: 1 year/$1.15M (2012)

There was no information listed for Cardenas and Corpas but we can assume Cardenas is being paid the minimum $(0.48M) and Corpas probably isn't getting much more than that.

From an on-the-field value standpoint, the David DeJesus deal was right on the money.   As a 1.3 WAR player, his value based on the market value of a win is $5.8.  The Cubs are paying $4.25M this season, with a few weeks to go.  It's fair to say that was a fair deal for both sides.  The Cubs got surplus value and also made something of a statement with DeJesus as their first signing which was this:  They want players to a) grind out ABs, b) play good defense, and c) represent the Cubs well on and off the field.  Mission accomplished on all 3.  It's hard to argue with this signing.  DeJesus isn't a star, but nobody expected him to be.  Solid move for the Cubs.

The Paul Maholm deal may have been even better.  His deal wasn't right at value.  He was a bargain.  There's a lot of surplus value here as Maholm's market value is $8.3M so far as compared to his $4.75M deal.  Part of the reason the Cubs were able to land a potential impact starter from the Atlanta Braves was that surplus value that Maholm had created with his better than expected season.  It was a case of Epstein creating a valuable short term asset from nothing and then quickly converting that to a potentially bigger long term asset.

*Update 1:34: I neglected to add Reed Johnson to the list, who was a FA even though he did play with the Cubs last season.  Like Maholm, he also provided good surplus value, grading out a 1 WAR player, which puts his market value at $4.5M, well above the $1.1M he got this offseason.  Like Maholm, he went to the Braves before the deadline.  The more I think about, the Braves are a pretty shrewd team here too.  Nice pick-ups for them.

The rest of the Cubs signings were for minimal amounts and I like that strategy when trying to fill out your bullpen.  The best of those signings turned out to be Shawn Camp, who has been a steady contributor and one of the few reliable arms in the Cubs unstable bullpen this year.   He has worn down a bit of late but overall he's provided great value to the Cubs.  Manny Corpas has also been a nice find.  He has posted a 3.68 ERA, though his peripheral numbers don't match up with those results.  Like Camp, however, he's been one of the few arms that manager Dale Sveum has been able to count on this season.  The last member of the bullpen the Cubs acquired cheaply, Lendy Castillo, hasn't fared as well, but his success during his rehab stint in the minors gives hope that he can get better with more development.  He just isn't ready for the majors right now, just as most Rule 5 picks aren't.

There have also been some bench contributors, one of whom, Luis Valbuena, has found himself getting a lot more playing time than we expected.  He doesn't look like an everyday player, but as a utility man and stopgap starter, he could have some use.  He plays solid defense and puts together some good ABs.  I think he's a better hitter than he's shown so far and could become a nice player off the bench.  Joe Mather surprised everyone in spring training but hasn't been able to carry over that success to the regular season.  He's bee a versatile player but he's likely not to be around long term.  Adrian Cardenas has shown himself to be a good hitter with one of the better approaches on the team, but his defensive shortcomings will likely prevent him from getting regular starts.

The final two signings were signed to MLB contracts but we probably won't see them until 2015.  The Cubs had to sign both LHP Gerardo Concepcion and RF Jorge Soler to MLB deals because that was market value.  Soler has made his way to Peoria and is looking like one of the Cubs top 3 prospects along with Javier Baez and Albert Almora.  Concepcion has struggled and now is likely out for the rest of the season with mono.  The deal was an overpay at 5 years and $6M but a worthwhile risk, especialy if Concepcion ends up a bottom of the rotation starter.  The deal sent shock waves through the industry, but what did they expect with the CBA about to close the door on young amateurs?  The bigger mistake was probably signing him to an MLB contract and placing him on the 40 man roster, but it's not like the Cubs are bumping anyone who figures long term at this point.  So far it looks like a mistake, but not a crippling one, and Concepcion is still just 20 years old, so too early to rule him out.  In a more intangible way, it helped cement the Cubs presence in Cuba and paved the road for the Jorge Soler signing, who is reportedly good friends with Concepcion.

Progress Report Grade:  A-

I'll get flak from those who wanted the Cubs to sign Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, or CJ Wilson...but that was never going to happen.  Not this early. Not with this front office.

The Cubs got solid value with their free agents.  They're also good players to have in the clubhouse on a rebuilding team and they didn't tie up their payroll for the days when they're ready to contend and add the final pieces.

Look for more of the same next season depending on how far prospects like Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, and Alberto Cabrera progress over the winter.  I look for the Cubs to use their resources to add depth to the starting rotation and hopefully find another Paul Maholm somewhere in the bargain bin.

The Concepcion signing is the only blemish, but it's a small one considering the relatively low cost and the potential value it can still provide if he comes back strong next season.


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  • Agreed, on all counts. Nice job, as usual, John!

  • In reply to ifandorbut:


  • Fine insights and a fair grade. Would like to see this topic on a "Felzzathon" discussion, focused on who they might add for '13/'14 among FAs and Rule 5s.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    If Felzz doesn't see this, I'll let him know. That could be very interesting.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm not sure what I think of the word "felzzathon" but I'll roll.... Speaking of words, I seriously doubt you STILL miss Kenny Hubbs... Isn't one of the steps acceptance? One of these days you're not going to miss him and you're still going to have the moniker. Then you'll just be a symbol of mixed messages.

    That's definitely on the docket. probably right after the season. I'm sure sometime during the playoffs Arguello and Loxas will have the Cubs Den Organizational meetings and, assuming Arguello doesn't drink all the Scotch, we'll address that very topic.

    I saw Hoyer on the "Watch Kaplan talk about Sports" show on CSN yesterday and I think the FA moves will be similar to last years with a tad more juice. One positional starter, one pitcher, and fringe players. But miles to go before we sleep on that one.

  • In reply to felzz:

    My answers might be more interesting after a few scotches.

  • In reply to felzz:

    Ha--thanks for your concern about my e-moniker. I think you just want me to have a shorter name for ease on the eyes.
    And I am used people thinking mixed messages about me !
    I accept that my boyhood hero Kenny Hubbs (my second boyhood hero, to Ernie Banks), whom I emulated as a middle infielder myself, is gone--forever young at what, just 22?.
    But as a symbol of my youthful hope of an earlier-generation Cubs rebirth, I still miss him....

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    I ABSOLUTELY still miss Ken. I have a framed grouping of his photos and cards as well as his, Ernie's, Billy's and Dick Ellsworth's autographs along with their '62 Topps cards in another. I am reminded each time I enter my office. As with other family and friends who have passed, time goes by but I still miss them.

  • In reply to Hubbs16:

    Hey Hubbs16, I was thinking about you when I wrote my reply above. Glad to see you here on this wonderful site.
    You are right, we can still miss someone while still letting them be where they are. Be well, see you on these pages I hope.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Back at ya my friend.

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    Wasn't Reed Johnson also signed as a free agent in the off-season? Another good one, by the way.

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    Good one...I always forget since he was with the team last year, but he was indeed a FA. Another excellent signing...I'll add it to the list!

  • Hi John,

    Excellent work as always. We claimed Cardenas off of waivers from Oakland, so wouldn't we just be assuming all un-paid monies from his original contract? I think he was a 1st round draft pick originally. Not sure why they placed him on waivers, he's been a career .300+ hitter in the minors. Whatever we're paying him, it's worth every penny if for no other reason than he broke up AJ's no-no on us in the 8th inning as a PH.

    I'm not sure Castillo was worth the 25-man roster spot all year. I don't see much upside, or am I missing something?

    What do you make of the Horacio Ramirez signing? I realize this is very low/no risk, but is there any upside?

    I think we struck gold on Moholm! both as buyers & sellers... Camp was an incredible value too.

    I loved the Soler signing! Especially because we out-bid the Yankees for him.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    That may be why I had trouble getting info on Cardenas, thanks! At any rate, he's a bargain on potential alone and that the Cubs didn't really have to do anything but remove somebody of the bottom off their roster.

    Ramirez is just a guy. Cubs are trying to replenish the depth they lost when they traded two SPs.

    Castillo can hit 93 with good command when he's on. That and a fresh arm make him worth the gamble. Its not like the Cubs took away a spot from a potential star.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    So next year Castillo can go to the minors and continue to develop, right?

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Yes, and that's exactly what he'll do, barring some enormous progress this offseason.

  • Thanks for the great blogs. Like everyone, I really appreciate the updates on prospects. It is news to me that Concepcion has mono, must have missed one of your entries(is there a kissing bandit that preys on Cub minor league pitchers?).
    1) I agree that the Cubs should not be big players this offseason in free agency. But please share your thoughts, if you think persistent losing can have a negative impact on the development of the young players (Castro, Rizzo, Samardja)? Would it help to sign a few more veterans to short term contracts who are good influences like Maholm and DeJesus. It would allow the youngsters to have the positive experience of winning more games. Could improve their concentration and development over a long season.
    2) Theo and Jed also hired a new coaching staff. Rather than quickly respond to my comment, it might merit a full blog entry. But I am interested to know your thoughts on performance of their coaching hires, specifically Sveum and Bosio.
    In my opinion, both men have good teaching and communication skills to the young players. Plus both seem to have the right combination of patience coupled with high expectations.

  • In reply to Rosemary:

    Thanks Rosemary, appreciate that! And that kissing bandit line killed me! Nicely done. Didn't both cases originate in AZ or was it Peoria, IL?

    The Cubs are big on taking players with strong mental makeup, but I do think vets like Soriano, Maholm and DeJesus help. I also think guys like Rizzo and Brett Jackson can be leaders down the road. And I can see W. Castillo being a stronger leader than Soto, who was more of the laid back kind of guy that kept guys loose.

    I will write a post on the FO, manager, coaches, etc. in this series. Favorite minor hiring was Dave McKay.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    So you have the kissing bandit narrowed down to in or near a city named Peoria...

  • Valbuena's another one we claimed off waivers... from Toronto. Say what you will about his batting avg., but we would've really been a mess w/o his glove at 3rd.

    When's the last time we ever had an impact player we picked up on waivers?

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    He's also allowed the Cubs to develop prospects instead of rushing them because there's a need.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yes, he has. Also, wasn't he a 2B/SS in the minors? He just filled in @ 3B because we needed him to, if my memory is correct...

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    That is correct, though he's more 2B than SS.

  • I think before next season we should still build through signing
    low cost Fa's, a rule V player, waiver claims and key trades.
    We should not trade any prospect(s) with potential unless we
    get a young, major league ready, player in return.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Sounds like a good plan!

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I believe a lot of free agents sign with a team because they want to play there, especially if its a short term, lower priced contract. I think trading these free agents like Johnson and Maholm sends a signal to future FAs that despite signing with the Cubs doesn't mean they will finish their contract with them. This could end up costing the Cubs in FAs not signing or the Cubs overpaying them. Using short term signings this way cannot be a long term approach.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I do agree with this. It cannot be a long term plan. Maybe they can do this one more year but they won't get many FAs this way over the long haul.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree, I don't believe that "sign and trade" will is a good
    long term policy. But they be lucky and find someone, fairly
    young, that might be able to help them for a few years.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    Couldn't players also see this as a way to get on a contender at post all star break? I mean if they know the Cubs are going to trade them, at least they will be going to a good team. If a good team isn't going to sign them as a FA, that could be a solid plan B. And if they don't get traded, they get to play on the Cubs and win 60 games. Sounds like a win-win to me.

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    That's another way to look at it. You're almost guaranteed to go to a contender if you have a good year.

  • fb_avatar

    John. Just a heads up. Final paragraph before your grade you have a typo. "In a more intangible way, it helped cement the Cubs presence in Cuba and paved the road for the Jorge Soler signing, who is reportedly good friends with Soler."Just letting you know, great article by the way. The review articles have been great. Keep it up

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    Ahh! Thanks for the heads up!!

  • P.S. The Red Sox just released Prior. Not a good day for former Cub pitchers.

  • No, I'm afraid Mr. Prior is about out of chances. Should have taken rehab more serious the first time around. Much easier when you're young.

  • Ex-Cub Dempster on Restricted List for personal reasons.

  • I'm with you on Concepcion, John. Were it not for that slot on the 40 man roster, I would tend to think of him as a slightly extravagant "overslot" under the old CBA and would barely bat an eye. The kid is 20, battled health issues this year, as well as moved to a new country. We'll know more in a year or two, but I wouldn't say he's a Hayden Simpson level mistake by any means.

  • In reply to Ryno2Grace:

    Not ready to say Hayden Simpson yet either. It was unusual that he was unable to regain velocity. Concepcion never really relied on velo, and he's a bigger kid, so maybe he doesn't lose as much.

  • Good post, John. I agree on all counts. I'm fine with the Cubs sitting out this free agent period. Instead, the focus should be on finding players like Maholm and DeJesus where we can buy low and then sell high at the deadline. In fact, I don't think we should even be shopping for big-budget FAs following the 2013 season. If some prospects turn out, this team could be in the hunt for a playoff bid in 2014, and maybe that trade deadline is a time to start looking to upgrade by adding some proven, still young players to round out the rotation and lineup.

  • In reply to Taft:

    Thanks Taft. 2014 is more likely for the big fish in my opinion as well, unless the Cubs are better than expected and an opportunity presents itself in the FA market, we may have to wait until then.

  • What about Germano? Seems like a nice value pick-up. From the Red Sox, right? Was he a trade?

  • In reply to mosconml:

    Technically a trade (for cash considerations), but it was a nice move when they desperately needed a warm body in there, and Germano has been more than that so far.

  • There will always be good still young DA's or released players
    for the Cubs to select from. The problem will always be the
    25 or 40 man roster size. Hopefully our people can pick out the
    ones that can help us for now or the long term (2-3 years)

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Agreed. Roster management is a key. Right now it's not as bad because the Cubs don't have a great 40 man roster, but as more prospects get added, it gets tricky.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Besides Soranio and LaHair who else is take up a valuable
    spot on the 40-man roster. Will they be gone by spring training.

  • John

    I was wondering if the compensation for Theo was ever concluded. I thought there was a player to be named along with Chris Carpenter. Sometimes that unnamed player is a 1st year player, sometimes not. Is this transaction done yet? If so, who was the other player besides Carp?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    The other player was Aaron Kurcz. Small relief pitcher with a good fastball but some command problems. Really high K rate (12.9), but walk rate is near 5. Could end up being a good reliever if he learns control.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Now I recall. Thanks!

    Tomorrow(?), besides the Under Armour game, the Cape Cod allstar league will be on Fox sports. Can you say anything about this game?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I'd definitely watch the Cape's on Fox? That's very cool. Top college players using wood bats. Two pitchers, Ryan Stanek and LHP Sean Manea, are expected to be among the top 3 picks. Between those two guys and Appel and the HS OF Meadows, those are the early favorites to be the Cubs pick if they stick at #3.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm afraid that they might we drafting 3-7. How many other
    elite prospects are there in the draft.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I would put those 4 at the top, after that it becomes less clear. Of course, it's early, so we'll see.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I take that back. It's scheduled to be on at 3pm PST on SUNDAY on what I believe is the Fox college sports channel, so if its being broadcast live, it'll be on at 1pm, Chgo time.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Oh man...I don't think I have Fox college sports!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    You might consider visiting a friend who does or checking out a local public house in case you don't have that channel.

    You're more than welcome to come by my place. ;^)

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Ha! 2000 miles! One of these days I'll go to SF. Wife has family there. For now, I'm going to find a local pub ;)

  • Does a player claimed on waviers always have to be added to
    the 40-man roster. If not, do you see them claiming more, only
    if they might help later.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Yes, any player put on waivers must be put on your 40 man. You have to put them through waivers again before you can send them down.

  • John, I agree about how key it was for both the Cubs and the Braves to acquire Maholm and Johnson. Theo scooping them up for cheap and converting them into a star pitching prospect was terrific. And the Braves acquiring them helps their title run in Chipper's last year while only giving up a prospect who couldn't help them this year or next. Win-win, we're all winners with our winning.
    I checked Maholm's stats on Fangraphs and he's been quite a good pitcher. Comparing Maholm's stats over the last five years to Garza's:
    Garza from 2008 - today: 893 innings pitched; 13.9 WAR
    Maholm from 2008 - today: 891 innings pitched; 12 WAR

    And by season's end, Maholm will pass Garza in innings pitched and come closer to his WAR. And he's one year younger than Garza.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    Garza's breakout year was last season and I wouldn't assume he'll have any more sub 2 WAR seasons if he's healthy. He's just reaching his peak and is on the way up, Maholm has been solid, but I don't think people believe he'll outperform Garza over the next few years.

  • does anyone have a good link to the players that each of the teams are considering protecting in the rule 5 draft, its something id like to look into if anyone has any information. i know john or tom wrote an article a few months back about who the cubs might need to protect, but im wondering more about who the cubs might be able to land considering we'll probably have a top 3 pick.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    Baseball America does this about 1-2 weeks after teams have
    to turn in their list to MLB.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    Don't know of one. That would be a lot of work for somebody. Maybe someone will have something like that closer to the draft, but last year I couldn't find one.

  • john what is the rule 5 draft for? Have the cubs gotten anyone good from it in the past couple years?

  • In reply to kingpro98:

    The Cubs drafted Josh Hamilton a few years back as I recall.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Traded him for cash.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    That was a prearranged deal. Hamilton had been out of baseball and before that had never made it out of short-season or Low A, one of the two, can't remember. Plus the Cubs were contending in 2007, no room for a project.

    It's not just the Cubs, any team could have had him for a nominal amount of cash. Reds were the only ones who thought it was worth a gamble.

  • Is Reed Johnson becoming the modern day Kenny Lofton or Reggie Sanders?

    I wonder if the Cubs would resign him again is the off season and flip him to another team next year at the deadline again. I figure Reed would be ok with it since he seems to like living and playing in Chicago at least a portion of the season....

  • John ... This was really a good idea and, as always, very well done!!

    I know he, Wood and Stewart came via trades, but I liked Sappelt when I saw him with Cincy last year. Stewart is going to be an interesting case this off season. Arb 2 I believe. A year older than Valbuena. Despite the ups and downs, both TWood & Maholm outperformed expectations. It appears Maholm has continued to do well with ATL.

    As to L. Castillo, the organization must feel as you do or they would have jettisoned him.

    I wouldn't be disappointed if this off season was as productive as last years.

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