A couple days back, we talked about the 2013 Cubs team as it stands now. We like what they've done so far, but it's far from a finished product. This Cubs roster is going to be a dynamic one that will change from here until the opener, during the season, at the trade deadline, and next offseason again. Chances are that by this time next year we'll be talking about a very different Cubs team.
A core will be in place. It's a core of young players whose best years are ahead of them, not behind them. That will consist of at least Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, and Jeff Samardzija, but a few others have a chance to join that group. The Cubs hope to find another piece or two from players like Welington Castillo, Brett Jackson, Arodys Vizcaino, and maybe Alberto Cabrera or others, perhaps even someone from outside the system. As Tom said in his excellent piece yesterday, that last part is the element that remains unfinished this offseason. To be competitive the Cubs need to keep adding to that core. In the meantime, the players around them will come and go.
When this rebuild is 100% complete (in 3-4 years), I envision it being like the 1990s Bulls teams. And by that I mean the general way the roster is constructed and managed, not that they're going to win 6 championships and have the best player of all time on their team. At the heart you had Jordan and Pippen, but the players around them ranged from strong complementary core players like Horace Grant, Dennis Rodman, John Paxson, and Toni Kukoc to interchangeable role players like Craig Hodges and Jud Buechler. (If those Jordan led Bulls teams are still too lofty an analogy, it also works with the recent Chicago Blackhawks teams, who have also built their team around a talented young core. They've won just one title, but are still considered contenders year in and year out. When they actually get to play, that is.)
But either way that's thinking too far ahead. The purpose of this article is to examine what the Cubs need to do from here until Opening Day 2013. We'll take this one step at a time...
Potential Big Moves for 2013
- Alfonso Soriano, OF: There's mixed feelings about Alfonso Soriano these days. Fans recognize his leadership skills, his improved defense, and the fact that he's the only proven source of RH power. He's a valuable part of this Cubs team. That said, this team is building for the long haul and if a team comes calling with an offer to give the Cubs a future piece or two, they have to do it without hesitation.
- Carlos Marmol, RP: Marmol finished the year strong and has value to the team as it's most reliable closer. That might sound odd, but consider how things went when the Cubs tried Rafael Dolis, James Russsell, and Shawn Camp in that role. It's no mystery why the Cubs brought in a pitcher with a history of success as a closer in Kyuji Fujikawa. Again, like Soriano, if a team in more of a win-now situation offers prospects or talented young players in exchange, then it's a no-brainer. You pick up more long term assets, move on and shift someone like Fujikawa into the closer's role.
- Matt Garza, SP: This would be the move that could potentially land the Cubs another impact prospect or two, perhaps a player than can become another core piece. Garza is both the team's best pitcher and, when healthy, it's biggest potential trade chip. If Garza can stay healthy and pitch the way he has the last two seasons, he can do more to bring in young talent than any other MLB player outside of the current Cubs core. With one year left on his contract, it's questionable as to whether Garza is going to be a part of future Cubs team. On the flip side, he is still young and the team needs starting pitching So unless you are certain you are going to lose him, it makes little sense to trade him for anything less than surplus value right now. The goal is to get better long term and we'll find out within the next several months whether the Cubs think that goal is better served by trading Garza, extending him, or putting off the decision until the trade deadline.
- Signing a free agent that slips through the cracks. Every year a few free agents overplay their hand or fall victims to some irrational behavior on the free agent market. It depends on your point of view. Whatever the reason, some free agents wind up heading toward spring training on the outside looking in. Rather than sign what they feel is below market value, some of these free agents make take a one or two year make good deal at a high AAV. That could play right into the Cubs hands. This year some of those candidates are OFs Michael Bourn and Cody Ross, as well as SPs like Edwin Jackson, and yes, Ryan Dempster. Other realistic free agents still without a home include pitchers Shawn Marcum, Francisco Liriano, and Carlos Villanueva Of all these players, only Bourn would mean the loss of a draft pick. If some of these players are still unemployed come January, it isn't out of the question the Cubs could swoop in and offer a short term deal at a high AAV.
Complementary pieces/role players to add for 2013
- A RH hitting 3B/utility infielder: Whether Ian Stewart or Luis Valbuena wins the job, the Cubs would like to add a 3B who hits RH, can help out against LHP, and won't hurt you on defense. Names that fit that description are Placido Polanco and Brandon Inge. But because ideally you don't want to use a roster spot for a player whose only role is the short-side of a platoon at one position, you'd like it to be a guy who can play other positions, whether it be SS and 2B or possibly the OF. There may not be a perfect fit, so the Cubs will likely need to get creative here.
- A true CF who hits RH and defends well: The Cubs have Dave Sappelt who can spell Nate Schierholtz in RF against LHP. David DeJesus, however, has a harder time hitting lefties than Schierholtz does, but Sappelt is stretched in CF. The Cubs could try Tony Campana in that role but he's more of a niche player with one tool, albeit an outstanding one. In my opinion, they should pick up someone like the non-tendered Andres Torres. Torres can spell DeJesus vs. LHP and double as a late inning defensive replacement. CF is probably the weakest defensive position in what is otherwise a pretty strong Cubs defense right now, and unless Campana has made strides with the bat and glove, then the Cubs should pick up someone who can fit the Cubs OF needs better.
- A veteran bullpen arm: We know the Cubs made a play for Jason Grilli and he is still undecided as of this writing, though some media reports had him close to signing with Pittsburgh. The Cubs will likely have one pitcher, Hector Rondon, who will have to serve as mop-up man. The Cubs may not want another young, inconsistent pitcher in the bullpen along with him, especially since good, but erratic arms like Rafael Dolis and Jeff Beliveau still have options and can hone their craft in Iowa. What also must be taken into consideration is that the Cubs may end up dealing Carlos Marmol before the season starts, causing some pitchers to have to step up and take bigger roles. You'd rather that be a veteran if you can help it.
- Some depth at starting pitching: Scott Baker is likely to start the season on the DL and the hope is that he can make it back shortly after the season starts, perhaps by May or even earlier. Even with a healthy Baker, you'd like to have depth simply because it's rare for a team to need just 5 starters today. The Cubs depth right now consists of Brooks Raley, Chris Rusin, and Nick Struck. They also have Arodys Vizcaino and Alberto Cabrera, but both pitchers are going to need to be stretched out for a while before they can be counted on in the rotation. With roster space limited, I wonder if the Cubs would consider killing two birds with one stone here. They need a 2nd LHP since, unless Marmol is traded, the bullpen arm likely to be displaced would be Jeff Beliveau. In that vein, perhaps the Cubs can pick up a LHSP whom they can use as a starter early and then slide into the bullpen until needed as a starter again, perhaps as soon as the trade deadline. John Lannan is the most experienced LH arm, but he may be a tough get. The Cubs may need to get creative by taking a flyer on someone like Scott Kazmir or Manny Parra. Both pitchers have experience as starters but are best served in the bullpen. Also as mentioned, there are plenty of mid-tier SPs still unsigned on the FA market if the Cubs are willing to be patient and wait. Of those names, Carlos Villanueva stands out as a pitcher who can swing between the rotation and the bullpen.
It's probably too early to discuss this now, but it's obvious that the Cubs will pick up players on short term deals in the hopes that they add value if given an opportunity to perform. Last year it was Paul Maholm who came and went. This year that piece could be pitchers Scott Baker and/or Scott Feldman, though that doesn't necessarily have to be the case. It's possible that some of these pickups will find a home here in Chicago if they prove they can fit into the long term plan. This is especially true if the Cubs make enough progress where they think they're in position to make a run in 2014. Of course, if the Cubs don't make enough progress and don't think they're close, then it's probably best to trade them and recoup assets who fit better long term.
I think eventually this system, like those Bulls teams, will run like a well-oiled machine, especially once the Cubs are cranking out talent from their farm. But we'll probably see a lot of fits and starts in 2013 as the Cubs look to fill multiple roles with flyers and inexpensive veterans looking for an opportunity.
So fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy year.
But it may just be the one that gets the Cubs headed in the right direction.
Filed under: 2013 Offseason Series