The Cubs had some big money to spend this offseason (Tanaka!), but ended up putting it back in the bank.
The Cubs have a wave of young talent (Baez! Bryant! Alcantara!) knocking on the door of the majors.
The Cubs probably would like to add a veteran or two to the mix to help alleviate some of the pressure on the kids.
A combination of these factors (and more) lead many to believe the Cubs are going to spend some money and add some pieces this offseason. As Tom heard and wrote last week, this winter could signal the end of tanking and the start of spending.
"I think that's going to be a significant focus of our next 18 months," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer told Dave Kaplan when asked about possibly adding players.
Notice he said "18 months" instead of "this offseason" – call it cherry-picking, but when smart guys like Hoyer and Theo Epstein talk, I pay careful attention to their choice of words. I feel like everything they say is carefully scripted and crafted in real-time using their super brains.
Could we see the Cubs be "buyers" at the 2014 deadline? Maybe. Of course, the Cubs won't be buying Matt Garza-esque rentals since they have virtually no chance of competing this year. Instead, it makes sense for them to go after a longer-term piece for 2015 and beyond.
Tom wrote about adding a pitcher like John Lester or Justin Masterson, which is all well and good. Personally, I'd like to see them go after a veteran outfielder to eat up some cash. Colby Rasmus is going to be the big free agent outfielder on the market next winter, but why sign a guy to a long expensive contract when you can take on someone else's, possibly at a discounted rate?
I looked over baseball's depth charts and tried to come up with a few players the Cubs could add who fit my criteria. Specifically, I was looking for veteran outfielders with larger contracts who the Cubs could bring in – money players who could soak up some of the media spotlight from the kids and also stick around for a few seasons. Outfielders, of course, because there are way too many spectacular candidates for the two up-for-grabs infield spots as it is.
Note: Unlike Tom, I'm no Insider; the only thing I ever heard before it happened was Martin Prado's possible involvement in the Justin Upton deal. This list is not based on rumors or sources, just my thoughts and fantasy. All ages listed are for the 2015 season; all contract figures courtesy of spotrac.
Here's my list.
Matt Kemp, 30
2015-2019 contract: 5 years, $108.25 million -- $21.65 million average annual value (AAV)
Pros: Jayson Stark wrote about a week ago that the Los Angeles Dodgers are listening "on every one of their outfielders except Yasiel Puig." Thus, it's no surprise a few Dodgers show up on this list. Kemp by far has the largest contract of the players I looked at, but perhaps the Dodgers would be willing to eat some money like the Cubs did when they dealt Alfonso Soriano.
Kemp's stellar 2011 season is a thing of the past, but his 2014 season has been a healthy one and his triple slash is a respectable .274/.338/.468 in 268 PA. That's not worth $20 million but it could still help. Kemp's a star who arguably should've won the NL MVP in 2011 and could make for some fun Kemp vs Braun storylines once he joins the division.
Cons: Health, for one thing. Kemp missed half the season last year thanks to a hamstring and then a shoulder injury, playing in just 73 games. (This year, he's missed only ten games so far and has yet to go on the disabled list.)
There's an outfielder surplus in LA, so Kemp was shifted over to left field a few months ago, something he was vocally unhappy about. Mark Saxon's sources said Kemp's reaction created a "tense situation" in the clubhouse. I doubt Kemp would face that sort of position change in Chicago, but reports like that aren't exactly reassuring from a guy you're asking to be a veteran leader. I don't have an inside perspective though so this could be a standalone incident.
Carl Crawford, 33
2015-2017 contract: 3 years, $64.82 million -- $21.61M AAV
Pros: Well, there's the obligatory Boston Red Sox connection, although that might not be a good one. Theo Epstein has admitted the Crawford signing wasn't in line with his preferred baseball strategy, and the Sox dumped Crawford's contract on the Dodgers just two short years after he signed. His stolen base success rate is 81.8%.
Cons: I really couldn't think of any more pros. Crawford is currently on the DL with a ankle injury. His defense nowadays is suspect, and although he was hitting well before going down, his season numbers are less than impressive.
Andre Ethier, 33
2015-2018 contract: 3 years, $54.5 million -- $18.16M AAV or 4 years, $69.5 million -- $17.375M AAV
Pros: A third Dodger outfielder makes the list! Ethier's contract includes a 2018 vesting option (or a buyout), both of which I included in the contract projections you see above. Among the Dodger outfielders named, Ethier has the most consistent track record by far in recent memory – from 2011-2013, he posted a minimum .340 wOBA, 2.7 fWAR, 120 wRC+, and 10 home runs in at least 500 at-bats. In another column, Saxon talks about how Ethier responded to the crowded outfield situation with much more positivity. Ethier has played all three outfield positions, including a good chunk of center field this year.
Cons: Although he's been consistent the past few seasons, Ethier's 2014 is not going well: 3 home runs, .248/.305/.355 triple slash, .294 wOBA, a below average wRC+ (88), and negative fWAR (-0.1). His walk percentage is way down, sitting at just 6%, which is a career low.
Carlos Gonzalez, 29
2015-2017 contract: 3 years, $54.285 million -- $18.09M AAV
Pros: CarGo is just a good hitter. He hits for a high average and is no slouch in the slugging department; he's got a career .227 ISO and .512 SLG, both excellent marks over 3,000+ plate appearances. Of course, I'd be foolish not to mention the Coors Field effect here. wRC+ is a league and park adjusted stat, and for his career, CarGo has a 123 mark in that department. He would be both an offensive upgrade and a defensive upgrade to the Cubs outfield.
Cons: For a while, it looked like the Colorado Rockies were going somewhere this season, but a rash of injuries and some underperformance has them 10 games back in the division as I write this. Acquiring Gonzalez wouldn't be a salary dump like Kemp by any means; he's still a valuable player and the Cubs would have to give up a few pieces to acquire him. Gonzalez experienced some finger troubles this year ("fatty mass with tentacles," oh my!) but that should be cleared up in advance of the deadline.
B.J. Upton, 30
2015-2017 contract: 3 years, $48.15 million -- $16.05M AAV
Pros: I can't imagine the trade cost to acquire the other Upton brother would be terribly expensive, to put it kindly. Plus, B.J. is still above average on defense.
Cons: So many cons. Upton's 2014 season is going much better than 2013, but he's still abysmal with the bat. His K% is upwards of 30 and he's batting only .203 with a .272 OBP. So... no thanks.
Michael Bourn, 32
2015-2017 contract: 3 years, $39.5 million -- $13.167M AAV
Pros: Some thought the Cubs should have gone after Bourn when he was a free agent in 2013, but he ended up signing a five-year deal with the Cleveland Indians. Bourn is still a Gold-Glove caliber defender out in center field.
Cons: The steals haven't been there since Bourn signed with Cleveland; he dropped from a 76% success rate in 2012 to 65% in 2013 and 67% in 2014 (the latter two are just about at the break-even point). Bourn had surgery on his hamstring in the offseason and started out the year on the disabled list. That looks to be cleared up now, but it gives me pause for a guy with a ton of value built into his legs going forward.
* * *
I believe everyone I named here is a realistic possibility for the Cubs to add some veteran presence before all the spotlights are on Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. Personally, I'd stay away from Crawford, Bourn, and Upton (especially Upton). Any one of Kemp, CarGo, and Ethier would be a great addition to the Cubs.
It all depends on price, particularly if my speculation about some money-eating turns out to be correct. Carlos Gonzalez is the most exciting option, but that feels like a stretch, even in my fantasy. Here's to hoping and watching at the trade deadline.
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