Yesterday it looked like the Cubs were on the verge of signing Anibal Sanchez but his agent decided to give his old team, the Tigers, one last chance to match or beat the offer.
And they beat it.
They gave Sanchez an incredible 5 year/$80M deal? It was everything Sanchez was hoping to make but did the Tigers get good value here.
My thought is no.
I said as much as yesterday when it was thought the Cubs may have signed him to 5 years $75M. Sanchez is a good pitcher, but that doesn't mean it was a great deal. It was about at the very limit of what Sanchez is worth -- and perhaps more. According to one industry source I spoke to, it was way too much.
The Tigers felt they could not afford to lose Sanchez and we can either say the Cubs got played here or we can take heart and realize that the Cubs are players for the top names, even at this early stage of rebuilding. The likely answer is that it's a little bit of both. The agent had no guarantees the Tigers would beat the offer, so it stands to reason they were prepared to sign with the Cubs if they hadn't. At the same time, it's obvious the Tigers were their preference all along.
For those that think the Cubs should spend, this is the inherent problem in trying to build through free agency when your team is rebuilding and coming off a 100 loss season. Players want money, of course, but they also want to win. The Cubs can only guarantee one of those things at the present time.
We should also be encouraged that the Cubs don't plan to stand idly and lose 100 games if they find a player they feel fits their long term plan. They were even willing to overpay for it. Unfortunately, so were the Tigers.
So what's next?
There are a couple of schools of though there.
- Go after the next best pitchers out there -- either Edwin Jackson or Kyle Lohse. Lohse is 34, so we can probably rule him out. But Jackson is just 29 and better fits the long term plan. There are reports, however, that the Padres are in big and there is a strong market overall. Jackson may get as many as 5 years and $65 overall. The Cubs knew Sanchez well and felt he was worth the money, it doesn't necessarily mean they feel the same way about Jackson. Jackson has better stuff, but his peripherals are not quite as good. He has a career walk rate of 2.85 and a strikeout rate of 6.96 per 9 IP. His career FIP is 3.93, which is about on line with his ERA (3.98).
- Go back to their previous plan of value-oriented signings. The name I like here is 29 year old Carlos Villanueva. He gives the Cubs some flexibility in that he was successful both as a starter and out of the bullpen last year. He has even closed in his career. The reason Villanueva is a potential bargain is that 1) he doesn't have a long track record of success and 2) teams are convinced he won't hold up as a starter long term. With regard to the first reason, that is a valid concern. Villanueva has always had talent, but never put it together until last season. His command has improved significantly,however, over the past two seasons and that has been the main reason for his turnaround. With regard to the second issue, he may not have to be a full-time starter for the Cubs. He can start the season in the rotation but potentially return to the bullpen once Scott Baker comes back. He could then regain a spot later in the season if the Cubs make trades at the deadline. At the same time, if he shows he can hold up as a starter, there's nothing to say that another pitcher, perhaps Travis Wood or Scott Feldman, can go to the bullpen. Or perhaps it means the Cubs can deal a pitcher earlier in season. It offers the team a lot of flexibility.
- Other options are LHP Francisco Liriano, 29, and RHP Shawn Marcum. Liriano is the one with the highest upside on this list but also has shown the least command since his injury. If he can return to his pre-injury control numbers, it's a potential steal. Marcum has been the steadier performer but injuries and durability have been an issue. Between the two, I'd rather gamble with Liriano. Marcum is essentially a bottom of the rotation starter, albeit a very good one when he's healthy. Liriano has a chance to be more than that with his 93-94 mph FB from the left side and a nasty slider.
- The Cubs may turn to a trade and it may be with the very team that beat them to Sanchez, the Tigers. They now have Rick Porcello as a 5th starter and Drew Smyly as the odd man out. We have long talked about Porcello here and he has the youth and durability to be a long term fixture with the rebuilding Cubs. Both his stuff and peripherals took a leap forward last year and he could really benefit from a switch to the NL and a much better IF defense behind him. Smyly would fill the void the Cubs need from the left side. He's not a top of the rotation type, but he's cost controlled and young enough to be part of the long term plan.
While I'd like either of the Tigers young pitchers, prying them lose may prove difficult. If the Cubs turn to free agency, then given the potential to add value and some flexibility, my choices now are Villanueva and Liriano. David Kaplan yesterday hinted that the Cubs may have a plan B, and it seemed to indicate a free agent pitcher, not a trade option.
Let's see what the Cubs think...
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