Winter Meetings Preview: Expect the Cubs to stay active

Winter Meetings Preview: Expect the Cubs to stay active

Executives around the league are starting to fly into Nashville as I write this piece.  They've done a great deal of work already, adding a couple of SPs in Scott Baker and Scott Feldman, a new closer in Kyuji Fujikawa, and a backup catcher in Dioner Navarro.

The Cubs have laid some groundwork for even moves.

Once the Fujikawa signing goes through, which is pending only a physical, the Cubs will have two open roster spaces, though they can acquire other players through trade.  The Cubs would like to continue to shore up pitching, add a starting caliber outfielder, and perhaps a 3B.   There's also the Rule 5 draft, in which the Cubs have said they plan to take a player.  Here's a preview of what to expect...

Free Agency

Pitching

The Cubs have said they will continue to look for opportunities to supplement their rotation and bullpen, though I don't expect them to spend big in either category.  That's not to say the Cubs can't sign a Shawn Marcum or a Brandon McCarthy, but I think it's doubtful.   The Cubs have landed two top targets in Scott Baker and Scott Feldman, a couple of undervalued pitchers who have a chance to outperform some of the more popular, more expensive names.  That said, if the price comes down to where it makes sense to add another starter, then that may be too tempting to pass up.

The more likely scenario is that the Cubs will look to add depth. Internal depth candidates include Chris Rusin, Brooks Raley, Nick Struck, and possibly Michael Bowden, who is starting in winter ball.  Arodys Vizcaino and Alberto Cabrera may give the options later in the season.  But all of those pitchers are unproven and the Cubs may look to acquire a starter with some experience, possibly from the non-tender list and on a minor league deal with a spring training invite to save roster space.  We mentioned pitchers such as Jeff Karstens, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Pelfrey, and John Lannan, but a flyer type to watch is LHP Manny Parra.  He's familiar with both Sveum and Bosio and I think the Cubs could entice him with a promise to stretch him out in spring training and give him an opportunity to start.  There may be a 5th starter opening in April/May until Baker is ready to go.  He can always return to the bullpen.

Speaking of the bullpen, I think the Cubs will continue to address that.  They hope to re-sign Jaye Chapman and Zach Putnam to minor league deals.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the Cubs pursue a strike-throwing veteran like Scott Atchison or Peter Moylan to stabilize the bullpen, especially since I expect them to deal Carlos Marmol.  Both veterans should be in some demand, however, and Moylan is expected to re-sign with the Braves.

On the traditional free agent market, I'd like to see the Cubs pursue Koji Uehara.  He has an outstanding strikeout to walk ratio (9.82 to 1.23 in his career) and he may help ease Fujikawa's transition.

Outfield

Non-tenders Ryan Sweeney and Andres Torres fit the bill as good defenders in CF who bat left-handed, but both profile better as 4th outfielders, much like the rest of the Cubs outfield rotation outside of Alfonso Soriano.  The others: David DeJesus, Dave Sappelt, Tony Campana, and non-roster Bryan Bogusevic all profile more as part time players.  Even if the Cubs do get a an outfielder, I expect to see a fair amount of platooning this year.

We'd be remiss not to mention the Michael Bourn rumor, though I remain highly skeptical.  On the other hand, the Nats have traded for Denard Span, the Phillies have now turned their sights on Angel Pagan, and plenty of options remain in the CF FA/trade market (Shane Victorino, Cody Ross, Coco Crisp).  Bourn may find that he's pricing himself out of the market with this high demands.  If so, the Cubs could swoop in on a short term deal with a high AAV.

Nyjer Morgan might be the poor man's version of Bourn, albeit with a little more flair and less production on both offense and defense.  Still, he's cheaper, he's looking for opportunity, and he'll probably sign a short term deal, maybe even a minor league deal.  Given there so many CF'ers available, Morgan may find himself on the outside looking in.

Grady Sizemore might be a cheaper, flyer type option but whether he can still play CF is highly debatable and it can be a little frightening when 2 of your outfielders have maybe one good knee between them.  The Cubs have shown interest in the past, however, and he's exactly the kind of guy Theo and Jed like to add through free agency -- a guy that has a chance to gain (or re-gain) value, not lose it over tie.  Obviously medical reports will play a big role here.

Third Base

This position is going to be the most difficult to fill simply because it's such a weak market.  The Cubs have already determined that they will not pursue Kevin Youkilis.  They have non-tendered Ian Stewart, though they may still bring him back on smaller deal, perhaps a minor league contract.

That leaves them with Luis Valbuena as the unchallenged starter for now, something that won't make a lot of fans happy, though I think he can bounce back and be better on offense (hard to be worse, right?), while still providing his usual good defense.

The wildcard is Jeff Keppinger.  The Cubs have shown interest and are one of the few teams in baseball that can offer him the opportunity to win a full-time job.  Keppinger is drawing a lot of interest, however, and it won't be easy to lure him to Chicago.  It's certainly not something the Cubs should count on, though I expect them to remain aggressive in their pursuit.

While I'm not a huge fan of the idea, Chone Figgins could represent a potentially interesting option.  I tend to think Figgins is done, but if the Cubs don't feel the same way, Figgins can not only play some 3B, perhaps platooning with Valbuena, but then also help out in CF.

Trade Talk

Alfonso Soriano

The buzz yesterday was that the Cubs would meet with several teams regarding  Soriano but David Kaplan through a little cold water on expectation, saying that the Cubs aren't overly optimistic they can get something done.  For what it's worth, I've heard that repeatedly from one of my own sources, so right now, I tend to agree.  It seems teams want the Cubs to foot most of the bill, which they're willing to do, but the reason for the lack of optimism is that teams are offering little in return in terms of players.  Well, that defeats the whole purpose of the Cubs trading him.  He still has value to the Cubs on and off the field and the Cubs aren't about to give him away.

Carlos Marmol

Marmol's fate as a member of the Cubs was already in doubt but the acquisition of Fujikawa may have sealed his fate.  It's likely the Cubs offered Fujikawa the closer's job in order to lure him away from Los Angeles and that would seem to leave Marmol as the odd man out.  He's the more likely to be traded of the two because he's more replaceable than Soriano and he's younger, healthier, cheaper, and has regained the arm strength that he did in his prime.  I'd be a little surprised if Marmol wasn't dealt.

As for whom the Cubs can deal for, those are names we've discussed at length here.  Coco Crisp for CF and Lonnie Chisenhall at 3B would be an ideal situation for me, but I don't know how seriously the Cubs are considering either player.  Chisenhall is a name we've heard from Bruce Levine but I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere else.  We've also mentioned Franklin Gutierrez as a possible trade option for CF.

 Rule 5 Draft

It's a good year to have the #2 pick as far as the Rule 5 is concerned.

Per Jon Morosi, via Twitter,

File this away for Thursday: Exec tells me Rule 5 class strong this year, potential impact arms and bats. "One of the best I've seen."

The Rule 5 Draft is on Thursday at the end of the meetings.  The Cubs should have a better idea what their needs are, but the feeling here is the Cubs will try to fill one of their bullpen openings.

There are a lot of great hitters in this draft, as the exect mentioned.  The problem is that most of them play 1B.  In general, it's more difficult for hitters to make an impact but if the Cubs were to try and fill holes there, then Red Sox CF Jeremy Hazelbaker, corner OF'er Destin Hood (Nationals), and Mets 3B Jefry Marte could be options.  OF Blake Smith has a good bat but limited up side, as does OF/1B Marc Knauss. Given that the Cubs need everyday players at those positions, they'd really have to be sold that these guys are ready to contribute now.  Marte and Hood may have the biggest upsides in the group if the Cubs are looking to stash someone.

As far as pitchers go, Red Sox farmhand Josh Fields should be able to contribute right away and fill a hole, though at 27 he doesn't give as much long term upside.  Another near ready pitcher, Angels RHP Ryan Chaffee, 24 is high on a lot of lists as well.  Chaffee has a good fastball, able to touch the mid 90s and a breaking ball, but command is still a big question.

A couple of high upside guys include the two youngest on this at 23 years old: Rays LHP Braulio Lara and another Red Sox pitcher, RHP Miguel Celestino.

Lara is the kind of fluid athlete the Cubs like.  His arm strength is also enticing.  Lara has hit has high as 98 mph, though he more often pitches in the 93-95 mph range. His secondaries and command lag well behind.  One thing in his favor is that he has pitched well out of the bullpen this winter.

Celestino is 6'6" and a Red Sox farmhand, so you know the front office is aware of him.  He has a mid 90s fastball, but like Lara, his secondaries lag behind.  Celestino keeps the ball down and has more control than most of the players on this list, so he has the potential to generate a lot of groundballs as well as the ability to miss bats on occasion.

If I had to pick one, I think it'd be Lara -- the velo and upside from a lefty is rare, though nabbing someone who can actually contribute like Fields would work too.

 

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  • Koji Uehara might be an interesting add in the BP - hadn't heard that he was generally available. Interesting,...

    Please,... please,... please don't touch Chone Figgins with a 100 foot pole though. He used to be a decent contact hitter with bunches of speed,... but both the speed and the contact hitting have dropped off the planet.

    I would love to see the Cubs make a play for Torres though, or a low-ball, high incentive laden contract to Grady Sizemore. If he has anything resembling any of his old hitting ability, and even one decent knee,... he might be a good add with something to he feels he has to prove. He might not project as a every-day CF at this stage, but (and it is a big but) he could rotate in there along with DeJesus, Campana, and maybe Jackson (if he gets his Ks under control).

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    He's a FA, though I think he'll get lots of attention from top teams.

    I'm not a huge fan of Figgins at this point because of his age and two consecutive bad seasons -- not just bad, horrible. Threw it out there, but not my preference at all.

    They had interest in an incentive laden deal for Sizemore last year. If he's healthy, maybe they check in again.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I think Figgans is done, too, but it doesn't hurt anything if they haven't found someone else to offer him a minor league deal and a spring training invite.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    I'd bring him in on a minor league deal. Still has some speed, versatility. If no longer a starter can be a utility guy.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Chone Figgins in 36, and over the last two years combined has slugged .256. He hasn't hit .256, he has SLUGGED .256.

    Let us speak of this no more

  • In reply to Zonk:

    To clarify, I'm against it in general. I think he's done. I don't see harm in a minor league deal though, just in case there's some good left in him.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Might be a guy who can fill a role like Baker or Mather I supposed (Figgins that is) - but if he has a hard time hitting his body weight - a poor substitute for at least Baker.

    If he would take a Minor League deal,... might be worth a flier.

  • I get the feeling landing Fujikawa means we probably won't be pursuing Uehara, but man would I be happy to be wrong. We get them both, opposing team better be leading after 7.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    I don't think they'll get him, not even sure they can considering that quite a few teams want him. Great fit if they can get him, though.

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    I have pretty modest expectations for these meetings.

    If they don't come out of them with Wil Myers, Nick Castellanos, Tyler Skaggs, and Oscar Taveras on the roster it's a complete and total failure and Theo and Jed should resign immediately.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Don't forget Giancarlo "Don't Call Me Mike" Stanton.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Of course. Not to mention signing Zack Greinke.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Too established. I only like players if there's a reasonable chance they'll flame out.

    It's been an hour. Shouldn't we have some activity? (No, I didn't sleep last night and am completely wired on coffee. Why do you ask?)

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Do you honestly not understand that your expectations above are completely ridiculous?

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    In reply to Zachary Myers:

    Everything above is tongue in cheek.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    LOL. That's what I was hoping. Would be awesome though.

  • I expect the Cubs to be players, but not major players during the meetings. They will really push hard to trade Soriano, a little less so for Marmol. I can see Marmol staying if the offer is not good enough and then the Cubs will really push hard during spring training.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Bigger market for Marmol right now.

  • Between the Rule V draft, FA's and trades the Cubs should be
    able to fill their needs and pickup some prospects.

  • I wouldn't mind seeing Marmol back pitching the 8th. It is what he has been best at and if you ignore the too big salary for that spot the bullpen looks pretty good late innings wise. Plus, there is no good reason to move Soriano either as the Cubs, nor the market., has a replacement. Both pieces need to bring back a good return for our future.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Agreed that if you can't trade them for something worthwhile, then you keep them.

  • Dont look know but Jim Bowden just said in the live winter meetings chat the serious contenders to land Bourne are in this order Cubs, Phillies , Reds . Uh Oh .

  • In reply to Bryan Craven:

    Bowden + Levine still does not equal Ken Rosenthal or even a Jon Heyman.

    Still, it's the first of Levine's rumors to be backed up. Still can't believe it'd be anything but high AAV and 2 years (maybe 2 yrs + option). Bourn finding the market not a cooperative as he'd hoped on long term deal.

  • Love the idea of Koji setting up for Fuji. Also really like the idea of giving Jeremy Hazelbaker a chance to play CF and see what he can do. Impressive walk rates throughout the minors, lots of speed and a .206 ISO at AA...I think that'll play, even if he is a bit old.

  • In reply to kylejo:

    Only concern is K rate for me. In some ways he's like a poor man's Brett Jackson. But maybe his contact skills can translate better in the short term.

  • John, great job with this article. Looks like a lot of research went into it.

    These next four days should be interesting. Our four GM team I am sure will give us plenty to discuss and reasons to look forward to the next season.

  • In reply to John57:

    Thanks John. Quite a bit of research, though some of it has accumulated over time.

    Should be interesting if you're looking for creative pick-ups and guys who might add value while with the Cubs. Not so much if you're expecting big FAs.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Yes I am fascinated by their creativity. You have to admire good old fashion brain power and integrity. Using money to solve every problem like the Yankees and now Dodgers are doing seems like a hollow victory.

  • In reply to John57:

    I'd take a hollow victory if it meant a WS ring :) but I don't think throwing $$ at the problem works and it definitely doesn't work for more than a year or two.

    I like building a team that can compete year after year with a strong core. If you have just one or two holes every year, makes it a lot easier to target FAs.

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    Nice article John.

    Sizemore reminds me of a modern day Kal Daniels, and not in a good way. Daniels was a very good hitter but by the time he came to the Cubs his knees were completely shot. He couldn't stay on the field, just like Sizemore.

    I think Valbuena could be worse on offense - he could hit like Ian Stewart. :)

  • In reply to Just Win:

    Thanks!

    That's the big concern on Sizemore. Maybe it's just too late for him. Then again, maybe he bounces back the way Beltran did, since they had similar injuries and are similar athletes.

    Ha! True on Valbuena -- or he could hit like Figgins.

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    John,

    Question on the Rule 5 draft.

    Normally in drafts you draft the best available player rather than for need (that's true in just about any sport). Is it safe to say in the Rule 5 that execs are looking to draft for need since they have to carry the player on their roster or do they still draft the best available?

  • In reply to Ken Roucka:

    I think it can be somewhat on need but execs really look for upside, especially a team like the Cubs.

  • I am starting to get the feeling that the FO has determined that they can rebuild and compete at the same. Either that or the Bourn rumor is bull.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I think they are trying to compete, just not with big FA signings.

  • Michael Bourne is giving me Juan Pierre flashbacks. Yeah, Bourne has a little more power ( who doesn't ) But speed guys in their 30's......I just don't see it. Who's Bourne's agent? Maybe they're "in" on Bourne to raise his value in return for consideration on some other client?

    I also think everyone's jumping the gun on this "Well we signed Fujikawa so we can jettison Marmol".... Marmol very well could be traded. But it's not like they have to unload him. The Cubs bullpen can use as many good arms as possible. And it would be refreshing to see the Cubs have extra power arms in the bullpen. Hopefully there's a good trade and it's all moot. But with Sveum being a really quick trigger manager ( How many times did we say "hmmm Dale should have gotten ________ a batter earlier? yeah, me neither...) I want a strong pen.

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    In reply to felzz:

    I'm with you on Bourn. I'm good with a short term deal, but I certainly don't want to attach a wagon to Bourn's horse.

  • In reply to felzz:

    Jeez, I hope not. One thing about Bourn is that he is 10x the defender that Juan Pierre was.

    I do think you're right. There's doing Boras a favor here, maybe to be repaid later (Appel?) Just keeping that relationship strong. Remember they were "in" on Fielder too last year. That was a bunch of BS.

    I don't think it's necessary they trade Marmol. They certainly won't give him away, but if they can pick up value for him they will.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Interesting that on MLB Network a short while ago Peter Gammons was on and he said Dale Sveum told him at the winter meetings that Fujikawa is the 8th inning man and Marmol is the closer.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    I think they have to say that until Marmol is gone.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    This FO really values defense and cf has a strong need.

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    Just heard Napoli to Boston, 3/39.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Saw that. I also saw Sanchez was offered 4/48. Criminy! If that's the price just about every team should want him, including the Cubs. Either Tigers not serious or that rumor is bogus.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Yeah, maybe they were hoping for hometown discount. If that's their offer, he's gone. And I wonder if that puts Matt Garza back on their radar.

  • Baltimore gave up on Josh Hamilton....door open now for a Soriano trade.

    Soto resigns with Rangers for $3 million........

    Why isn't the Dodgers going after Dempster?......

    With all these injured players looking for work, I hope Theo took a Doctor with him to look at the x-rays........

    Kate is Pregnant.....I am not the Father......

    A-Rod will miss half of 2013 season.......know we know why Yankees asking about Castro......

    Rays signed Looney to play first...good pick up.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    "now we know"

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Wonder if the Yanks would be interesed in trading for Vitters or Stewart?

    :D

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    In reply to CubsTalk:

    Seems like Soto did pretty well to get $3 mil, but I guess catchers don't grow on trees.

    In other ex-Cub news Marquis signs with Padres, also for $3 mil

    $3 mil just doesn't get you much these days, does it?

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    Very nice read. I'm in agreement that Marmol should not just be cut free now that we have Fujikawa in the closers role... but what kind of return could we even expect? I was kind of surprised when I saw the Walden/Hanson swap even though I know Tommy has pretty serious injury concerns. Dan Haren also seemed like a pretty nice get before the trade fell through. So I guess the real question is where do you think Marmols trade value is? Big league help or a younger player with some upside?

  • In reply to Mark Manser:

    Thanks Mark.

    I think Marmol has some good value left because he has been able to allay concerns about his arm strength -- a big reason teams were scared off in 2011. Everyone knows he has control problems, but he's still relatively young, he's always been healthy, and he hit 96 consistently last year and was able to keep guys off his slider. He'll walk people, but he's stingy with hits. If he were a free agent, I'd imagine he'd be drawing significant interest.

  • Report on ESPN in the live winter meetings chat says Pagan close to resigning with SF , Phillies saying price too high for Pagan as well as Bourne, Reds have Hamilton very close, the list of suitors for Bourne is shrinking, this is playing into the Cubs hands to get him on a shorter say 3 year deal which I would be ok with . Not many teams left looking for CF help .

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    Why would they draft Lara knowing he has to say on the roster all year though? Looks like he walks lots of guys and the signings of Baker & Feldman (and probable trade of Marmol) seem to prove they are dedicated to better K/BB ratio pitchers.

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