Yesterday I was among many invited to attend the On Deck 14 event in which both Crane Kenney and Theo Epstein spoke about the club's future both from a business and baseball standpoint. I will have a recap on that event for tomorrow since there are still season ticket holders who have not yet attended.
Epstein re-emphasized the farm system and once again reminded us of the perils of free agency. The average free agent player is 32 years old and on the downside of his career. He's likely to be overvalued and paid on past performance. Don't expect the Cubs to be doing a lot of that this offseason. He noted that of the 50 rostered players in the latest World Series, 35 of them came from the farm system or from trades involving those prospects. The Cubs top prospects are coming. It seems that most of them will be here by 2015 and it won't be long after that the Cubs can sort out their prospect depth and make trades for veterans to fill additional holes.
While much of the excitement has been about the potential position player free agents available, it's not realistic that the Cubs will sign a major free agent such as Robinson Cano or Jacoby Ellsbury even though both would be great short term fits for the club. Reported asking prices are going through the roof and it's very difficult to see where the Cubs will find value.
The Cubs are loaded with position player prospects along with young stars Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, and Welington Castillo. Spending a lot on a free agent who is already in his 30s may be a bit premature. But there are interesting players to be found in less expensive places.
There are alternatives for the short term.
There's nothing exciting about the bargain bin. Future star players rarely get non-tendered or become minor league free agents. They're usually fringe MLB players but that doesn't mean there isn't some talent. Unfortunately, what you only see is unfulfilled talent. Optimistically, you can label them as players that didn't yet live up to expectations. These are the kinds of acquisitions that may not have much in star power, but they can be the most intriguing pick-ups for scouts and front offices. Everyone can identify the big names, but there is something more gratifying about picking up that little known name that winds up being a solid contributor at great value.
Often the more intriguing talent is traded. It's an avenue the Cubs have taken in the past, but it has not worked out well for them in general with the most notable flops being the trades for Chris Volstad and Ian Stewart. But neither cost the Cubs much to at least take a look. Volstad cost the Cubs Carlos Zambrano while Stewart cost the Cubs replacement level utility infielder D.J. LeMahieu and the recently DFA'd Tyler Colvin. As disappointing as Stewart was, it was essentially risk free gamble on a talent ballplayer. In that sense, I still see it as a move the Cubs would do again if given the opportunity. It just might work out next time and even if it doesn't, it's almost certainly not going to come back to haunt you.
There are also minor league free agents. And while you aren't likely to ever find a David Ortiz type player again, a good example of a recent find by this particular front office is Chris Denorfia, now of the San Diego Padres,who was signed as a minor league free agent in 2009 by Jed Hoyer and has gone on to be a solid starter, including a 3.9 WAR year last season.
So what's the harm in rummaging, right? You aren't risking much and you never know when you're going to find a useful piece of the puzzle. We've already seen the Cubs bring in Aaron Cunningham as a minor league free agent. He's a fit in terms of plate discipline and solid defense. He's also been a good minor league hitter and some believe there is power potential there. There is certainly no harm in finding out.
Drew Stubbs OF: Strikeouts are an issue but he's an athlete with some pop and discipline. He offers a RH platoon bat for either Nate Schierholtz, Ryan Sweeney, or Bryan Bogusevic. Stubbs is 29 and wouldn't be so much an upside play as a short term fill-in who fits the Cubs profile until the prospects arrive.
Travis Snider, OF: As a LH hitting corner OF'er, he's probably a bit redundant, but Snider's name has come up before when the Cubs would talk trade with the Jays. They can now offer him a chance to compete with Bogusevic for a spot. He'll still be just 26 for the entire 2014 season, just entering his prime.
Scott Sizemore, 2B-3B: Sizemore is a 28 year old versatile, RH hitting infielder who can play 2B and 3B. He showed a solid approach at the plate with some pop in the minors but injuries have derailed the start of his major league career. If healthy, he could come in and bring some competition for an infield spot.
Nolan Reimold, OF: Just turned 30, Reimold was once a solid corner OF prospect for the Orioles but like Sizemore, injuries have been an issue. He's another guy with a good approach, some power, and a RH bat to platoon in the OF.
Minor league free agents
Jake Smolinski, OF: Smolinski will be just 25 next season and while he's never been a great hitter, he'd be a RH bat to add to the mix, he's versatile though he isn't particularly strong at any position, having played 3B and all 3 OF positions. He has the kind of plate discipline the team likes. Could make a 5th OF'er. He also happens to be local, hailing from Rockford, IL.
Zelous Wheeler, 3B: An athletic 3B who moves from SS, Wheeler can be thrown into the infield mix, perhaps as a player to compete for Donnie Murphy's platoon spot with Luis Valbuena if Mike Olt isn't ready to start the season. Wheeler is a good contact hitter with discipline and extra base power.
Sawyer Carroll, OF: He's been a sleeper prospect in the Padres system so this front office knows him well. Like Smolinski he's an OF'er who probably fits as a corner and as your 4th or 5th guy but he'll take a walk, make consistent solid contact and is still just 27. In a way he reminds me of Ryan Sweeney because he's a big 6'4" OF'er who has never hit for the kind of power you'd expect from his build.
Max Ramirez, C: Remember him? Ramirez spent spring training with the Cubs in 2011 but was optioned to AAA and then released soon after. He's a good hitter with some power and plate discipline, though his defense is lacking a bit. With Welington Castillo ready to assume full-time duties, the Cubs may just want an inexpensive back-up should they not be able to re-sign Navarro. Edit: Ramirez signed with the Red
Chris Marreo, 1B: This would be a pure depth pickup as Anthony Rizzo is entrenched at 1B. The Cubs current emergency 1B, Brad Nelson, is himself a free agent. The difference is Marreo is still just 25 years old and still has time to develop into a useful asset, though he hasn't really come close to the potential the Nationals once believed he had.
Filed under: Uncategorized