The way I see it, the Cubs biggest holes next season will be starting pitching, the bullpen, 3B and in the outfield, especially if Brett Jackson doesn't make the progress he needs to make this offseason. Even if he does improve, the Cubs will need someone to run out there for at least half a season.
The Cubs will eventually become a hot spot for free agents but that is not going to be the case right now. The Cubs have a couple of advantages. One is the ability to spend big on one or two year deals because of their small payroll and the other is to offer an opportunity for a player to get a full time starting job, then parlay that into big bucks later if they succeed. Players looking for 4 year deals or for an instant shot at a ring will likely go elsewhere, so that likely rules out the big names. The Cubs will have to use multiple avenues to fill the holes on their roster.
One place the Cubs can look for players looking for opportunity is the non-tender market. It's the one place you can find younger players who have talent, but for some reason or another haven't blossomed into good regular MLB players yet. The Cubs have some openings for players who want the opportunity to prove themselves as they enter their prime and/or approach free agency. The possibility also exists that the Cubs can even find a long term fit in this market if they strike gold.
So bring me your tired, your hungry, and your poor. Wrigley Field is the MLBs land of opportunity.
Here are a few guys they may want to look at. Keep in mind that this is neither a glamorous nor exhaustive list...
There were a few intriguing names out there but many of them are out there because they suffered an injury, such as Charlie Morton, who has the ability to control the strike zone, something the Cubs really lacked last season. It's possible the Cubs can still sign an injured player, as they did with Ryan Dempster, though he was just 27 at the time. Morton is 29.
John Lannan, 28, LHP
The Nats have been trying tor trade Lannan for way more than he's worth the past couple of years but nobody took the bait -- and rightfully so. Perhaps with expectations on a return scaled down to an appropriate level, the Cubs can acquire him to help balance the Cubs rotation. He's a 5th starter, though, and a fringe one at that. He doesn't strikeout a lot of batters (4.71 Ks/9 IP career) and has just average control. What he can do is get ground ball outs (53% GB rate for his career) and keep the ball in the park.
Josh Outman, 28, RHP
Outman has good stuff, starting with a fastball that averages around 94 mph and a good slider. He has shown control similar to Lannan in his career (3.56 walk rate) but it went up to 4.43 last season on his way to an 8.19 ERA at Coors Field. The xFIP, however, was a bit more encouraging at 4.05. It'd be a flyer, but he has a good arm and has shown average control in the past, so it may be one worth taking.
I do like the notion of developing your own bullpen but nothing wrong with taking a guy or two off the scrap heap and seeing if he can turn out to be useful, much like Shawn Camp was last season.
Corey Wade, 29 RHP
Wade had a disastrous season (6.46 ERA) but that could be a blessing in disguise because it could mean he comes cheaper. His strikeout to walk rate per 9 innings was excellent (8.77/1.85) and his xFIP of 3.65 was very respectable. There's plenty to suggest that Wade just had an unlucky year: low strand rate, high BABIP, and a career high percentage of flyballs that left the yard. There could be some hidden value here.
Jerome Williams, 31, RHP
Remember Williams? He had one awful season with the Cubs in 2006. He has improved since then, in part because he has develped a good cut fastball. He's older but he would give the Cubs some flexibility as he showed the ability to both start and relieve last season, though he was better out of the pen. His 1.55 walks/9 IP rate out of the bullpen was outstanding, though he was plagued by the long ball. If he can keep the ball in the park better, he could provide a solid veteran swingman.
Brad Bergesen, 27, RHP
Bergesen's youth is an asset and has more upside than anyone else on this bullpen list. He has a solid sinker/slider combination that generates ground balls and keeps the ball in the park. He also throws strikes, as his 2.12 walks/9 IP rate would attest. He had a 3.64 ERA last season for the Diamondbacks. He's not going to be your late inning guy, but he is potentially someone who can help out in the 7th inning or so.
Not a lot of good outfielders on the non-tender candidates list, but one is intriguing...
Kyle Blanks, 26
As the youngest player mentioned, Blanks is all about projection and upside. He's enormous (6'6", 270 lbs) but plays a surprisingly solid OF defensively. But the Cubs would not be picking him up for his defense, it'd be about his potential to provide power -- something the Cubs lacked last season. Blanks had an outstanding ISO of .264 with the Padres in 2009 and showed plenty of promise, but injuries have taken their toll since then. Blanks has solid plate discipline, something else the Cubs are looking to improve. He's walked at a rate of 10.2% in his career. I think that plate discipline is going to be a factor in any Cubs pick up this offseason. It's a part of the culture they need to turn around quickly. It probably also helps that the Cubs front offiice, including GM Jed Hoyer, Sr. VP of Scouting Jason McLeod, and new scouting director Jaron Madison all have more than the usual familiarity with Blanks.
The Cubs have two non-tender candidates themselves at this position in Luis Valbuena and Ian Stewart. The Cubs may try to replace them, or perhaps platoon them, with one of these players...
Mark Reynolds, 29
Reynolds is now 3 years removed from his 44 HR season but still packs enough power to give the Cubs a boost in the middle of the lineup. He also will walk -- a lot, and that helps supplement his very low batting averages. On the downside, he has big problems making contact and isn't a very good baserunner. So what you're really getting is a player that's a bit above average offensively but well below average on defense. Is it worth it? Probably not. But 3B is thin on the market this year and power at 3B is even thinner.
Ryan Roberts, 32
Roberts is too old to be a part of the team's long term plans but good defense, some pop at the plate, and versatility (can also play 2B and OF) could make him a better short term value pick up than Reynolds. He has averaged a solid 10.2% walk rate for his career. He's been a better hitter against lefties in his career and might be an asset off the bench whether the Cubs go with Luis Valbuena or Ian Stewart at 3B.
Sean Rodriguez, 27
I've always liked the athletic Rodriguez but his performance has not matched his ability. Contact issues and a below average hit tool overall have hindered him, but he does a lot of things well: field, run the bases, and he has some pop to go with average plate discipline. He's another versatile player that can play good defense at multiple positions, including SS, where the Cubs were obviously not eager to rest starter Starlin Castro last year. Two consecutive seasons with BABIPs in the .260s perhaps point to some bad luck and maybe that turns around for Rodriguez next year.
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