2013 Starting Rotation: Looking at some possible value signings

2013 Starting Rotation: Looking at some possible value signings

About a month ago, I wrote about internal starting rotation options for 2013.

Then yesterday, Tom wrote that the Cubs could look for a Paul Maholm type pitcher or two after the season. I started wondering who might fit that description on the free agent market.  By that I mean that the pitcher has to be around the 30 year old range and, for some reason or another, he has to be undervalued.  With Maholm it was a shoulder injury and a loss in velocity that allowed the Cubs to nab him with a team-friendly deal.  It turns out the shoulder was fine and that Maholm doesn't need a 90 mph fastball to get MLB hitters out.  It also turned out that Maholm wasn't part of the Cubs long term plans, but they did flip him for a younger pitcher who figures to be in the mix in Arodys Vizcaino.

While this is anything but an exhaustive list, here are some pitchers in no particular order who may interest the Cubs if they're still available (ages are as of opening day next season)...

 Carlos Villanueva, 28, RHP

Villanueva may have priced himself off the bargain bin with a strong finish as a starter in the AL East.  As a starter, he has allowed just a .281 OBP and a .670 OPS in 12 starts.  His K/BB ratio has been an outstanding 3.94.  The strikeout rate has stayed at about a K per inning but it's the improved control that has made all the difference in the world for Villanueva.  He has gone from a rate of 5.67/9 IP to 2.25/9 IP as a starter.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed, however, and there should be heavier than expected competition for Villanueva's services this winter.

Anibal Sanchez, 29, RHP

Sanchez, on the other hand, may have lost a few dollars over the past month.  Originally a Red Sox farmhand who went to the Marlins in the Josh Beckett deal, we know that Theo and Jed are well-acquainted with his talents.  Sanchez isn't a flame-thrower (90-93) but he has an excellent change-up that helps play up his fastball, resulting in good strikeout numbers in his career (7.5/9 IP).  He also keeps the walks down to an acceptable level (3.00/9 IP).  Sanchez is a guy whose peripheral numbers have always been better than his results.  His FIP has been lower than his ERA for the past 3 years.  Combine that with a 15-20 record the last two years and he may end up being a bit undervalued on the market.  His performance in Detroit, which has seen his hits per 9 innings skyrocket to 12.4/9 IP and his strikeouts plummet to 5.0/9 IP may scare some teams off, especially those in the AL.

 Scott Baker, 31, RHP

Scott Baker has a club option left on his contract so he may not even make it to free agency.  As someone who has been injury prone and is owed 9.25M, however, I"m going to guess that that the Twins will decline that option, especially since they may be farther away from contending than the Cubs.  Baker has been out all year with what is called a flexor strain in his elbow.  His UCL, the ligament associated with Tommy John surgery, had no damage.  The good news there is that the recovery is quicker and that Baker should be healthy enough to pitch this spring -- and probably this winter if he chooses.  Baker may be the bargain version of Sanchez in that he also has had a lower FIP than ERA the last 3 years, including 3.45 in 2011.  He also has a low 90s FB  and has put up good strikeout numbers (7.23/9 IP) on the strength of good command (2.10 walks per 9 IP) and solid secondary pitches.  In Baker's case, his best pitch has been his slider.  Like Maholm health concerns may leave him undervalued. However, Baker (like Maholm was)  is expected to recover well before the spring starts.

Francisco Liriano, 28, LHP

Once a rising star, Liriano value plummeted so low that the White Sox were able to pick him up for a song before the trade deadline.  Liriano has pitched better since joining the Sox and under the tutelage of pitching guru Don Cooper, that is not unexpected.  He has not had a dramatic improvement yet, however, and that may keep his value down as he heads into free agency.  Liriano never had great control and he has struggled with it even more since his elbow surgery. The velocity is back, as Liriano can regularly hit hit the mid 90s (sits at 92-94), and his nasty slider has returned as well.  His problem has been keeping the ball down as the groundball rate had gone down each of the past 3 years while the HR rate has gone up in that time.   The Cubs have shown a willingness to take on pitchers with good arms in the hopes that keeping the ball down in the strike zone will help them improve their results.  Liriano seems to fit that category.

Scott Feldman, 30, RHP

The Cubs were rumored to have shown some interest in acquiring Feldman last spring and could continue that over this winter. He's now 3 years removed from his surprising 17 win season.  Interestingly, Feldman's peripherals continue to improve as his results have gotten worse.  His FIP this year (3.78) is actually less than it was in his breakout year (4.31).  Feldman is another low 90s pitcher, though he has turned much more frequently to the cut fastball, which is about a tick slower but has more movement and has been more effective.  Stuff-wise, Feldman is more on par with current Cubs young starters Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley, but his control/command is much more advanced.  This year he's walked just 2.1 batters per 9 innings and has allowed less than a HR per 9 innings, no small feat considering that bandbox he pitches half his games in.  Feldman's ERA of 5.01 is higher than his FIP, due in part to a Chris Volstad like strand rate of 59.7% -- but that's the kind of thing that could make him a bargain this offseason.

While Carlos Villanueva and Anibal Sanchez may have the most appeal and Francisco Liriano offers the most name value, the gut feeling here is that the Cubs may be looking more at guys like Scott Baker and Scott Feldman.

Edit: A few have brought up Shawn Marcum's name and I think that if the Cubs could get good value for him, he'd be in the mix too.  Marcum has some of the traits the Cubs look for (i.e., high strikeout rate, low walk rate) but my feeling on this is that he won't be undervalued this offseason.  That doesn't mean the Cubs won't sign him, however.  The Cubs could still buy relatively low and if he has a strong, healthy year, he could make a nice trade chip at the deadline.

Last year I did predict the Cubs would pursue Chris Volstad and Chris Capuano (whom they pursued heavily but were outbid by the Dodgers).  Let's see how my early predictions turn out this year.



Filed under: Free Agency



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  • john, this is off subject but I was watching the game last night and len and bob were going on about bryce harper and how good he is. But I look at his numbers and they are not impressive, I know he is only 19 but he is just getting to much press for me. I can see mike trout getting the attention he has the numbers. For example Tim Kurkjian says that harper did not have the numbers for the all star game but he still wanted harper in because of the story. I know someone will bring up lahair and I think he did not have an all star year. They talk about his hustle but they don't talk about what kind of numbers he is putting up. I think the media hyped him up so much that now it is no turning back. Don't get me wrong I think he could be good someday but please let him earn his praise first. Sorry I couldn't bring this up some other time but I don't have a twitter account.

  • In reply to seankl:

    Harper's tools are mind-boggling and he has showed flashes -- but he's just 19. It's expected that he'll struggle some early on, but by the time he has 3-4 years of MLB experience under his belt, he'll be about 22 years old. Sometimes you have to look past the numbers. Harper and Trout will probably both be at the top of MLB before they even hit their prime.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I am not denying his talent, I think he is very talented but I think sometimes the media make players out to be something that they are not yet. Like you said probably at the top, we don't know yet. But I listen to radio and watch tv and they are saying he is one of they best already. I am not saying the kid is not good but don't make him out to be great. Like some guy on another website said that harper makes rizzo and castro look average. But if you look the numbers that is not true.

  • In reply to seankl:

    He's not great at this point in time. He gets a little hyped and sometimes his accomplishments get overblown. That being said,as of now, he's at least on par with Rizzo/Castro when you look at advanced metrics. If you take about ceiling/high end potential, then he is much better than our guys. But, yeah, we'll see how it plays out.

  • A couple of guys off this list, with Garza, the Shark, and Wood, would make for a very nice rotation. There would also be some nice trade pieces from that rotation if things work out in our favor.

  • In reply to bwenger:

    Agreed. It'll be interesting to see what happens with Garza this spring. I think if the Cubs are going to trade him, they'll get the most value if they trade him before the season starts since it gives teams the option of getting a comp pick.

  • Not sure on Feldman. I just remember that fight with the Angels player (his name escapes me) and the jokes ensued afterwards that Feldman certainly didn't hit or pitch like Nolan Ryan. lol

    But really, don't we have enough "finesse" pitchers in the organization?

    I like the prospects of Liriano, but God help us if he doesn't keep that ball down in Wrigley............

    There's a few other options too. It'll be interesting to see what they do. I think we need two SP's minimum. I'm curious what you think of them bringing Dempster back?

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Ha! He doesn't look like a fighter.

    Finesse pitchers are one thing ,but finesse guys who can hit their spots are another. We saw that with Maholm.

    I think Dempster may have burned his bridges here. This FO isn't one to talk, but they were clearly miffed that he made things difficult and that they were unable to get the value they could have gotten for him. And Demp has to know that if he signs here, they'll trade him again if he has any success.

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    I would take a chance on Anibal Sanchez. If he does well enough we can flip him for some more prospects.

  • In reply to Nathan Mausehund:

    Sanchez could provide some of the best trade value on this list along with Liriano.

  • In reply to Nathan Mausehund:

    I think he fits perfectly behind Garza & Shark, has a pretty good GB rate, & is only 28. Here's hoping he can get a Maholm type contract, but Im sure someone will overpay & give him +3 years.

  • In reply to Cub Fan Dan:

    That's the thing, there are some guys who you just get the feeling will get overpaid and Sanchez might be one of them, Marcum may be another. It's not as if the Cubs can't afford them, but early on they're trying to build surplus value. Later when they contend, they can probably relax that a bit and bid on the more expensive players.

  • Any chance of a Dempster reunion?

    Theo is certainly familiar with Dice-K. We could definitely snatch him up on the cheap. Not sure I want him though. He's probably already got a ticket on the first Oct 1 flight to way.

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    I'm not betting on a Demp reunion. It didn't end well even though all sides tried to keep their frustrations under wraps. He's only a stopgap at this point and that likely means that the Cubs would trade him again if they got the chance. Not sure Demp wants to put himself in that position with no veto rights.

  • Jair Jurrjens is the guy I'd love to see them pursue. He's having a lost year, and is about as much of a non-tender lock as there can be. He might not even be trade bait if he can get back to where he was. He'll only be 27 heading into next season, so he could be a massive asset either in a trade or as a long-term rotation piece with Samardzija and (possibly) Garza.

    If he's good and the team still thinks they need to add elite minor league talent, Garza and Jurrjens, if they're both at 100%, could really help the Cubs' farm system a ton.

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    In reply to Jim Weihofen:

    Jurrjens is a guy i'd stay away from at this point.

  • In reply to Jim Weihofen:

    Jurrjens would be a bargain among bargains. I think he'll be very cheap and might be a decent flyer to take a chance on. But one thing to keep in mind is that Jurrjens was a smoke and mirrors guy even at his best and now his velo is about 3 mph slower on average. I wouldn't mind signing him, but not as a guy that you are depending on. I see him more as a guy you throw into the mix.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Well, obviously, you don't give him a 4 year contract and tell him he's a major part of your rebuilding plan. One year, no more than a million, and see if he can find his past success.

    If he's good through mid-July, well, hey, the Dodgers still have Zach Lee in the minors...

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    One guy I would have liked to see on this list is Brandon McCarthy. He's still under 30, has good stuff, and good command. He's your typical underachieving, often injured, former top prospect but if he figures it out he can be nice trade bait or even a future piece if he really improves. Just a thought. Maybe he's not on this list because teams also know this and will overpay for him similar to Sanchez?

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Exactly. He was a guy I considered, like Marcum, and I do like McCarthy. I think McCarthy will get paid, though, by a team that's willing to pay more than the Cubs at this stage..

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I heard McCarthy caught a liner off his head.

  • In reply to Hubbs16:

    No, he never caught the ball after it hit him on the head.

  • Yes sir, I stand corrected.....he was lucky to stand. I hope he is ok

  • Thank you John. This is why I love Cubs Den so much. You break everything down so perfectly & its something to revisit in Nov & Dec.

    Im looking forward to the same for the potential bullpen FA candidates as well. I really hope they really bolster this area this offseason. An .801 OPS for team relievers is horrendous. They just havent seemed to be able to provide much BP help from within the organization & guys like Dolis, Cabrera, & Beliveau looked pretty iffy in their first go.
    Thanks John!

  • In reply to Cub Fan Dan:

    You're welcome and thanks!

    I think the Cubs will look for some more steady vets for the bullpen too, like Camp, for example -- but it's certainly not something they're going to bid high on. They've already got good arms. I'd look for guys who throw strikes.

  • Sanchez will be too will Liriano....

    I like Lohse or Marcum, but they will sign with a contender......

    Dan Haren can come cheap for one season....

    Cubs will need to look at the pitching draft prospects.....

    Which brings us to prospect Kevin Appeal ...Cubs could draft him and have him be ready for 2014 season....first, we need to talk with the Devil himself, Scott Boras.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    It's possible on Marcum but if he's healthy, there will be a lot of teams in on him and most are better than the Cubs. I think they'd have to outbid to get him.

    Not sure Haren will come cheap either. He won't get a huge deal, but I have a hard time imagining they'll get good value there. With Lohse you''re going back to paying for past performance so also hard to picture getting surplus value.

    That's not to say that the Cubs won't sign them anyway. I'm just not sure they feel they're in position to get into a bidding war, even a small one. I think it's more under the radar guys again. I really have a gut feeling on Baker and/or Feldman, especially Baker.

  • I think theo and jed are going to lay in the weeds and pick up pitchers like sanchez and baker and then try and get some other teams pitching prospects that fell out of favor with there teams. Billy bean has been doing this for a long time, that's why the A's always have pitching. They draft pitching, and they sign low cost pitchers and hope they do well and trade them for more pitching prospects.

  • In reply to seankl:

    There could be some out of options guys, much like Volstad was. If there's a young guy with a good arm, wouldn't be surprised to see the Cubs take a chance on one of these guys that teams give up on.

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    I know he doesn't fit the criteria for age, but I wouldn't be surprised if for the right price, the Cubs sign Dempster again. He most likely won't resign with Texas and has hurt his chances for a lucrative mulityear deal, (unless the Dodgers need an 8th starter). It depends on Theo/Jed's feelings to him about the voided ATL deal and whether or not Dempster is ready for Cubfan/media vitriol.

  • In reply to Louie101:

    I'd take him back personally but his love for Chicago would have to outweigh a lot of other things -- and then he has to expect that the Cubs would trade him as soon as they get the chance. Not impossible, but definitely some obstacles to overcome.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, great job breaking it down as always. I have to admire you're patience in regards to all the "bring back Dempter" comments. Let's face it, he was a bird in the hand, and fits none of the criteria (as well as others) for signing "Maholms" next year.

  • Thanks, I understand wanting Dempster back. He's done well all year and he'd probably help a struggling rotation. The Cubs were much more watchable with him, Garza, and Maholm in the rotation.

    But it just doesn't fit the overall plan of what the team wants to do. The Cubs need help, but it'll be with an eye toward the long term.

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    I had all of those guys on my too. Along with: Kevin Correia, Gavin Floyd, Brandon McCarthy & Jonathan Sanchez

  • In reply to Ken Roucka:

    I wouldn't rule any of those guys out either. Hard to predict until we see the market shake out but if any of those guys finds themselves with fewer suitors than expected, I can see the Cubs pouncing on the opportunity.

  • I forgot about gavin floyd, he would be a nice pick up. He is a young guy with good stuff, and I wouldn't mind the cubs give him a good deal. If he figures it out he could make the rotation a lot better esp in the national league.

  • Baker is solid. Always was an under the radar type guy, but with a good track record. If he's truly back to 100%, I'd take a flyer on him.

    I think the Cubs really will need to sign 3-4 pitchers this offseason... 2 that will be "locks" for the team and 2 more for depth. It's pretty clear that Coleman, Wells, Lopez, etc aren't gonna be counted on next year and Rusin and Raley in an ideal world would be options 8-9 in terms of depth (Raley perhaps 7 or 8). Sad that our higher minors can't really even provide much depth to the SP ranks.

  • In reply to Pura Vida:

    Agreed. Not much in the high minors right now. Finesse guys with so-so command can make your head hurt at times. Right now it's too hit or miss, can't count on them until they can locate better.

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    You have to think the Dodgers will make an insane offer for at least one pitcher. Sanchez seems like safe bet for insanity.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Liriano seems more their type to overpay for.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Maybe Greinke too. I expect LA to go after big names and overpay. That idea certainly seemed to interest them at the trade deadline.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Given what they had to pay to get him in the first place, unless the Dodgers off Greinke Manhattan Beach, I have to think the Angels do whatever is necessary to keep Greinke.

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    John, I know you mentioned young guys with good stuff the cubs may be able to pick up cheap. Theyre not free agents but two interesting guys are Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis.both are in that "Volstad" type category and seem to have been given up on. Hochevar has top rotation stuff and I think Bosio can work with him. Any thoughts on these two?

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    If you can get them cheap, sure,why not? They both have some talent and are relatively young. Not much to lose.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I remember that Hochevar kid. He was really highly touted and then a mess of a situation with him & Scott Boras re-negging on a deal, etc.. Went into the draft and was #1 overall by KC.

    I think he'd be an ideal candidate, but it appears he has already rebounded enough that KC won't let him just walk into FA. He was terrible at the beginning of the season, but now his ERA is under 5.00. He has had seven starts of seven innings or more, plus five more starts of six innings. He's got a complete game shut-out in June and just 2 weeks ago held to the rays to 1 hit with 10K's in 8 IP.

    I do like the way your thinking though Marcel.

  • John, is there anyone in AA/AAA that we haven't seen this year that COULD compete @ spring training?

    I think it's safe to say, we could use all the help we can get.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    They'll put some guys in the mix but they're going to have to show significant improvement from here until March to make the team. I think they'll give Rusin and Raley a shot, maybe Nick Struck, but the likelihood right now is that they'll be depth. Bring in as many arms as you can give innings to this spring.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Okay so Struck is the only one we haven't seen yet and it doesn't look like he's a legit candidate to start in 2013 @ the MLB level.

    Maybe we need to acquire 3 or 4 "reclamation projects" vs. 2 then.

  • Dempster no way. Look for pitchers with good stuff that teams
    don't want for whatever reason. No more than 2 year contracts
    unless we can get a great price. Don't trade any prospects with
    great promise unless we can get a young pitcher under our
    control for 3-4 years.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    That sounds reasonable to me.

  • There will many pitchers out there look for a starting job
    it so happens we will have 1-2 for the right pitcher. This
    should work in our favor. Sign as many as we can and
    hope for the best.

  • John- Excellent post. I also believe the cubs have to sign two free agent starting pitchers. We can always trade them for more prospects if they are having rebound years. What do think of Ervin Santana? He has had a pretty down year so he should come cheap. The Angels do have a club option for $13MM, but they will probably decline it. Besides the guys you mentioned, I also like Gavin Floyd and Brandon McCarthy.

  • In reply to Panama Cub:

    Thanks! I wouldn't rule out Santana either. There seems to be a lot of guys out there, so maybe someone slips through the cracks. Santana is certainly intriguing because of his talent.

  • John, more of an organizational question... Are they going to spend their balance of funds avail for IFA's? That $ doesn't carry over does it?

    I saw the Rangers signed Profar's little brother:

    Clearly, there's still talent out there why have they been so quiet?

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    maybe they have spent close to their max for IFA this year and other teams havent

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    It may be that they haven't announced some signings. They may have gotten a steal in Paniagua too. I think IFA's are a big part of their plan, so it may be more that we don't know about things than the Cubs actually being quiet.

  • We have the money and the need. Should be no problem.
    This where scouting reports will play a big part in finding
    the right pitchers.

  • This list isn't complete without Edwin Jackson. Love him. Want him. Wanted him last offseason.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Talented guy. Only question is if he fits with what they're trying to do.

  • Who was it that said Bryce Harper isn't that impressive?

  • John:

    Given that
    1) the Cubs are likely to finish this season with 100 losses with little hope for improvement next year,
    2) the Cubs offense provides the lowest run support in MLB, and
    3) the Cubs are likely to flip any signed FA pitcher at the trading deadline

    why would ANY FA pitcher even consider signing with the Cubs?

  • In reply to DropThePuck:


  • In reply to johnnywest333:


  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    It's a legit question and it's part of the reason why the Cubs need to go bargain hunting

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    It's a good question and it does seem unlikely for top tier FA pitchers to sign with the cubs. Those premium free agents will be signing with the contending teams and those that have already scored their multi billion dollar media deals. The cubs aren't in either of those markets, they are just a rebuilding team in a"old world media deal" major market. IF you are looking for an analogy, look southside.

    I think the cubs have an advantage for many of the types of free agent pitchers that have been so well discussed in this article and comments. The cubs aren't competing with the top teams and top markets for these players, yet they offer big city and major market exposure to a player who wants to go for their next big contract. No other team really offers that for a player that to the same extent as the cubs do for a comeback or turnaround player on a one year deal. You can be the best player on a bad team and reap the benefits, look a soriano, he's almost a viable outfielder and a team leader. He turned down playing in Sanfran to stay in chicago. I'm not saying sign another soriano, just that for certain players cubs will be a desirable fit incomparison to other teams/cities. So with top talent evaluators like the cubs have now in the FO, there should be some possibilities that will work out. Maholm didn't get great run support but he still showed a lot of ability and enhanced his options playing in Chicago.

  • I know everyone win next year but, it would be a very good year to tank. If the Cubs get the #1 pick in 2014 draft they will be in line to get Carlos Rondon a LHP who is a #1. He is at NC State and worth watching if you get a chance.

  • In reply to WickitCub:

    You can't make it a plan to be the worst team. If Rondon keeps progressing.He's the number one pick, so Cubs would have to be worse than the Astros and every team in baseball. That's not easy.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I dont think the Cubs will improve next year and They will regress more next year. They have every little pitching and the offensive still needs more. I still dont think we will see any improvementuntil 2015.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Also, THIS Astros team VS. the AL West -- I don't know how bad Cubs can be. We may be looking at a historically bad team here (Astros 2013).

  • In reply to WickitCub:

    I'm a huge Carlos rodon fan! I have asked John before about him because I heard if he attends juco this season he would be draft eligible for 2013. Haven't been able to confirm if that's true or not. If it's true, please attend juco Carlos!!

  • In reply to Joshnk24:

    Rondon won a ton of awards and went 9-0 and a 1.57 ERA with 114 2/3 innings pitched for NCSU in 2012.

  • In reply to Joshnk24:

    You dont want him to attend a juco this yr. because he would be picked right away by The Astros. The Cubs still have a chance in the 2014 draft.

  • I like the idea of Anibal, but I'm not sure he's going to be valued low enough that he fits our price range. There's a point where it becomes a little too risky to try and cash in on a guy like that. I'd place that line at 10 million per year, and Anibal could be payed anywhere from 7 to 12.

    The other guy I would like for us to go after is also named Sanchez. Jonathan Sanchez, to be exact. His career strikeout rates are too impressive to ignore. I want him to battle for one of the final 2 spots in next years rotation with the other 3 lefties (Wood, Rusin, Raley).

  • John, since the Cubs payroll will be way down what are the chances they sign players like Sanchez, Upton, and Liriano to excessive one year deals (so they would opt for the shorter deal). And then flip them at the deadline why paying their salary.

  • this is an outstanding idea for an article. They will most certainly do something like this. In fact, they won't even try to go after Liriano or Sanchez, because other teams may have interest. They are more likely to end up with guys like Feldman and Baker.

    Once again, we are not looking for long-term assets here, but guys who might acquit themselves well the first half of the year, so they can turn around and become trade bait. This might be the only way a few of these 'questionable' guys get an opportunity to eventually contribute to a contender.

  • Would love for them to take a flyer on Baker, but not sure how his propensity for home runs allowed would work in Wrigley. If he can put up 3 months of a lucky HR/FB with the wind blowing in at Wrigley, he'd look nice to a contender in July.

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