For a team that's 20 games under .500, the Cubs don't seem anxious to make a lot of changes next year, so they have to make the ones they do make count. I don't imagine much changing at catcher, the infield, or, barring the acquisition of Masahiro Tanaka, in the starting rotation. I expect 2014 to start with many of the same familiar faces.
An interesting area to work on next year will be the outfield. The Cubs traded away 3 veterans in Alfonso Soriano, David DeJesus, and Scott Hairston. They have also bumped Cody Gillespie and Dave Sappelt from the 40 man roster. The minor league outfielders is a mix bag of players with questionable long term starting potential and guys like Jorge Soler, who is too far away from the majors to make an impact next year. If there is any potential impact outfielder who gets to Wrigley next year, it's going to be Kris Bryant (if he switches from 3B). I will do my minor league outfield prospect depth chart after the postseason.
Here are three options:
1. Go with the status quo
The Cubs are giving long looks to Ryan Sweeney, Bryan Bogusevic, and Junior Lake and while none have been flawless, they've all shown themselves capable of contributing next season. Nate Schierholtz has been solid all season. The only missing piece would be a 5th outfielder which would be fairly easy to obtain either through free agency or other outside outlets such as the waiver wire or a minor deal. They could also find such a player internally. Jae-Hoon Ha and Matt Szczur come to mind as two players who hit RH and can offer good CF defense off the bench. Darnell McDonald is the current 5th OF'er but I don't expect him to hold the job long term.
.254/.306/.481.; 20 HRs, .338 wOBA; 110 RC+, 1.6 WAR
Schierholtz has worn down a bit down the stretch and it's likely he's more of a platoon player. While he doesn't walk a lot, he does see a lot of pitches which is what the Cubs want to see. The downside is that the lack of walks really hurt his OBP numbers. On the plus side, Shierholtz offers some power from the left side and good RF defense. Overall he's a keeper, but I don't think he's a long term solution.
.282/.352/.515, 5 HRs, .375 wOBA, 137 RC+, 1.2 WAR
It's hard to believe that Sweeney's WAR is less than half a win behind Schierholtz but Sweeney has added to his value with good plate discipline, an above average OBP, the emergence of the kind of power many thought was always there (.227 ISO), and the ability to play a very good CF. It's a small sample size but Sweeney looks like a potential starter who can produce plus offensive numbers from the CF position. He also hits lefties well and should be able to be a full-time player.
.309/.350/.468, 6 HRs, .358 wOBA, .125 RC+, 1.2 WAR
Lake also has added value in a very short sample size. Like Sweeney he has shown some power and the ability to play CF, though it is erratic at times. Lake adds tremendous speed to the equation though it has not translated to base stealing prowess at the MLB level yet. The jury is still out on Lake as an unusually high BABIP of .388 and a 4.5% walk ratio vs. a 23.9% K ratio suggest regression is coming at some point. Lake has shown the ability to adapt at all levels, however, so he deserves the chance to prove he can do it at the MLB level as well.
.277/.337/.489, 5 HRs, .354 wOBA, 122 RC+, 0.7 WAR
Bogusevic has been the most quietly productive of the new OF trio and his numbers are close to Lake's, though he does walk more (7.7%), strikeout less (18.3%) and has an appropriate .306 BABIP. It's just a 100 PA sample but it seems realistic that Bogusevic could sustain those types of numbers throughout a full season. He's not really played vs. LHP, so he appears to be a platoon player at this point or perhaps the 4th OF'er. A platoon with Junior Lake, who has hit .388/.400/.551 vs. LHP is an option.
2. Pick up a free agent outfielder
We discussed the merits of Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury here. I think Choo is the better fit if the Cubs can get him on a short term deal because he adds the kind of OBP the team desperately needs. I look at the Choo free agency situation as one similar to that of Shane Victorino where you have a past-prime player who is approaching platoon status because of his current lefty-righty splits. Victorino got 3 years and $39M, which is likely about what it would take to sign Shoo, if not more. The 3 years is the key as the Cubs will have Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, and perhaps Kris Bryant as prospects coming through the system as outfielders within the next 2-3 years
Other free agent outfielders of interest are Curtis Granderson or perhaps flyers on Nelson Cruz or Corey Hart on short term deals.
3. Trade for an outfielder
The intriguing name out there is Giancarlo Stanton, though it may cost the Cubs top prospect Javier Baez to acquire him. It's a choice between a more known quantity and the tremendous potential Baez will provide on offense from the infield -- perhaps even at SS. Stanton is still young but injuries have put at least a small question mark on his can't miss superstar status. He's had an off year this season. Some like Professor Parks, as Felzz mentioned yesterday, feel that Baez may be the prospect that ends up being the guy the Cubs send packing in order to fill current needs on the MLB club. It's a tough choice because the argument here is that you would hope that Baez could become the kind of offensive force that Stanton has been and should continue to be if he stays healthy. Health with Stanton is a legit question, as he's already had some knee issues early on in his career.
There are some, of course, who would prefer to trade Starlin Castro, who is also having an offseason, in some sort of package for Stanton. That's a less likely possibility with the cost-conscious Marlins. Castro's deal at this point in time doesn't look like the bargain it was last season, though that could change quickly, of course.
What do you think? How would you rebuild the Cubs outfield next year. The poll below allows for multiple answers, so select any and all outfielders you'd like to see in a Cubs uniform on Opening Day in 2014 and give us your breakdown in the comments section.
** Note "Nelson Perez" is secret code for Nelson Cruz, though I know you all assumed that already. I didn't want to have to start the poll over again **