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.