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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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