The GM meetings used to have more of an administrative bent, stuff like rules and procedures which may not move the needle with most of us but they could spark some pretty serious discussion among baseball honchos. That part of the meetings still exists but the GM meetings have also become a place where teams increasingly discuss transactions with agents and with other teams.
I expect that the Cubs won't do much in the way of big moves this week -- that is, unless a team blows them away, of course. We talked about some of the minor moves the Cubs might make in terms of position players this past weekend. They may make similar moves in terms of pitchers. The Cubs are said to be looking for a starter and some bullpen help. We've looked at some starters before, so let's take a look at a few bullpen arms.
We have a pretty good idea of what the Cubs look for -- power arms in general, good athletes, good command, good makeup. Of course, everyone wants those guys and nobody is going to give them away, so the Cubs will probably have to get a bit creative. The scouts may have to dig up a find and let Chris Bosio get to work to transform an arm with unfulfilled potential into one that can be a useful part of the Cubs bullpen. Perhaps the Cubs can find another Strop, Parker, or Rondon via trade or minor signing.
One interesting arm that a scout mentioned to me was Tommy Hunter of the Orioles. He's due a big raise in arbitration and has many of the attributes the Cubs like, including excellent command and a fastball that averaged 96 mph last year out of the pen. Prying him loose cheaply from a contending team may not be so easy, but he's an outside the box idea for a potential future closer. He's just 27.
Other potential non-tenders include John Axford, who has recently closed for the Milwaukee Brewers, posting 105 saves between 2010 and 2012, including a career high 46 in 2011. Axford had a rough year last season but the peripherals are passable (3.56 xFIP) and he has experience in the closer role, which isn't essential, but may provide a transition period for either Pedro Strop or Justin Grimm. Command has always been something of an issue for Axford but he still averaged 95 mph on his fastball, so the arm strength is still there.
The Cubs could offer Andrew Bailey the closer role if the Red Sox non-tender him. He only pitched 28 innings with the Red Sox but is still relatively young at 29. His command is average but Bailey can still miss a ton of bats, as his 12.24 Ks/9 IP would attest. However, Bailey isn't getting those swings and misses with his fastball anymore. He's been much more reliant on his curveball, a pitch that isn't as easy to command consistently. Bailey also had some issues with the long ball and put up a 3.77 ERA, but normalizing his HR rate and using xFIP (3.20), he projects well for next season if he can stay healthy.
Former top Braves LH reliever Jonny Venters is on the comeback trail and may make an interesting flyer candidate. Venters had outstanding seasons in 2010 and 2011, though he did outpitch his peripherals a bit. He tends to walk batters and in 2011 he was aided by a low BABIP and a high strand rate. It caught up to him in 2012 a bit, but he was still productive. I think that's the Venters minus a few HR balls, that we should probably expect if he's healthy.
If you want a real flyer from the Braves, former top prospect Tommy Hanson seems intriguing but he's lost some velo off that good fastball because of injuries and while he's not wild, his fringe average fastball these days doesn't let him get away with as much as he used to. Unless a year of health and short bursts out of the bullpen put some oomph back into that heater, I don't see him as anything but a middle reliever at this point.
Kevin Jepsen has a live arm (96 mph FB) and seemed to junk his slider in favor of a cutter last season to go with his change. He put up a 4.50 ERA but the 3.38 FIP is encouraging. He's still just 29 years old.
Any big moves?
It's entirely possible (if unlikely) that the Cubs may want to strike early on a free agent they have identified as a top target. Masahiro Tanaka isn't available yet. Boras clients like Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury are long shots -- and he almost never signs early with his top free agents. That's not to say the Cub can't check in and gauge interest and feasibiilty, especially on Ellsbury, who would seem to be the better fit long term, but any serious movement on the top free agent front would be surprising to say the least.
If rumors are true and the Cubs are indeed interested in bringing in a LH catcher like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, now would be the time to find out. The reason for that is that such a signing would require a second major move -- the trading of Welington Castillo. Saltalamacchia has made it clear he prefers to return to the Red Sox but the return interest has been lukewarm. The Red Sox are reportedly eyeing Brian McCann and Carlos Ruiz, though that could very well be just a negotiating ploy. My guess is that Salty returns to Boston. At any rate, we may learn something on that front this week.
Big moves themselves are unlikely but it is a time to lay down groundwork. The Cubs aren't expected to actively shop their core players around, but they are almost certainly willing to listen and getting a read on their market value. Will teams call on Starlin Castro, Welington Castillo, and Jeff Samardzija? Sure, why wouldn't they? Does that mean the Cubs are looking to trade them? Not necessarily. It would take a huge offer to pry those guys loose.
As we were reminded during the On Deck 14 presentation, the Cubs are in the business of collecting young, cost-controlled talent and have been trying to move in the direction of a more youthful, cost efficient team. The more cost-efficient your talent is, the more you can squeeze on to your payroll.
Epstein and the Cubs have traded eight veteran players with a combined four years of control left with an average age of 32.5. They have converted that into 14 players averaging 23 years old with 78 combined years of control. I don't expect the Cubs to suddenly reverse that trend.
They also have precious little of that at the MLB level, so if teams are going to ask for those commodities from the Cubs, they better need to provide the Cubs with surplus value in terms of long term talent. I find that possibility unlikely this offseason. But with a tight payroll, the Cubs may need to get creative, so we can't completely rule out those kinds of surprises.
The Samardzija situation
One person kind of caught in between is Jeff Samardija. He's young and has been called a core player, but he also only has 2 years of cost-control left and there doesn't seem to be an extension on the horizon. The Cubs would be a bit more motivated to listen on Samardzija than the younger, more cost-controlled players. We know the Diamondbacks have shown interest and we've mentioned the Nationals, Royals, and Pirates in the past. Today, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post confirms the Nats are interested in Samardzija. The Cubs main prize there would be Lucas Giolito, a player that I was told they had a great deal of interest in a couple of years ago, but backed off when injuries became a concern. He's a high ceiling pitcher that comes with a fair amount of risk, so it may be more plausible than trying to obtain an Archie Bradley type.
As to why the Nationals would be interested in Samardzija rather than David Price, our guy Kevin said it succinctly,
"Here is how teams view Samardzija. He is a less expensive opinion. Where the other two will cost 3 to 4 very good prospects, Samardzija will cost 1 to 2."
The added interest in Samardzija can only benefit the Cubs. One source tells me the Nats plan on making an offer he believes the Cubs cannot turn down. For me, that means it has to involve Giolito. The Cubs aren't going to give away their talent. Teams will call, the Cubs should at least listen...but I'm not expecting anything earth shattering this week.
The Price on Price
The David Price scenario that was bandied about in the comments section yesterday makes for nice discussion, but the 28 year old Price is cost-controlled for two years and would cost the Cubs a lot in terms of prospects, control, and depth. It would be due diligence to see if Price would be willing to sign an extension first to recoup some of that control, but questions still remain. He'll be 31 when that contract expires. Are the Cubs close enough to contention to acquire a pitcher whose best remaining years will almost certainly come as the Cubs are still rebuilding? Should the Cubs be concerned about a significant 2 mph drop in Price's velocity to go with a drop in strikeouts and groundballs and an increase in line drives and flyballs? That's not for me to decide, but I do think the Cubs need to tread cautiously here. The Rays have no intention of selling Price on the cheap. That's not to say the Cubs won't kick the tires but it's easy for me to envision an old school team ignoring those trends, especially one on the brink of contention, and making a significant overpay in terms of long term value. It's harder for me to envision the Cubs doing that.
All in all, I expect the Cubs to make some minor signings that I will probably get a little too excited about and lay the groundwork for bigger deals down the road.
But one thing we've learned about this front office is that they can still surprise us with some of their moves, so we'll be following closely as always.
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