Last week, guest author Bradley Woodrum suggested the Cubs should trade anyone over the age of 27, including Geovany Soto and Matt Garza, punt the 2012 season, and attempt to build a dynasty for 2014 or so, and beyond.
The commenters have done a great job handling one of Brad's crazier suggestions -- that is, sending Starlin Castro back down to Iowa for the sole purpose of delaying his entry into the salary arbitration process. But since his post has gone up, I've been back and forth over whether this team should be completely blown up or not.
So rather than make a decision, I'm going to take my best shot at filling out rosters for the Cubs' most competitive teams possible for 2012 and 2013, based on both available free agents and the expected development of our minor leaguers. You tell me how much better the team could be, and then we'll decide if Soto, Marshall and Garza should be traded or not.
My 2012 roster, after the jump.
Off the top of my head, only nine of the Cubs' current 25 players are guaranteed spots on next year's team: Soto at C, Castro at SS, Soriano in left, Marmol and Marshall in the bullpen, and Garza, Dempster, Zambrano, and Wells in the rotation. Obviously there have been a ton of trade rumors about Demp or Z possibly being moved, but I think their 2012 salaries, along with Soriano's, will prevent any of those three players from being dealt.
Another guy that I think should be brought back is Kosuke Fukudome. Fuk's gotten a bad rap in the past three years as a late-season flamer outer, but check out his pre- and post-All Star OPS numbers over the course of his career: .784 OPS in the first half, .773 in the second half. He's also an on-base machine, with the best eye on the team by far. He's not worth the 4/48 he got when the Cubs first signed him, but I'm sure he'd like to stay in Chicago, and it helps that he already knows how to play right in Wrigley. If he were willing to take a two-year deal for $10MM-$15MM, I'd re-sign him.
On the other hand, Marlon Byrd has to be traded, basically as soon as he regains his health and shows he can still play. One of the Cubs' few nearly-ready minor leaguers is a center fielder, and while Brett Jackson should not be rushed into the majors, that does mean the Cubs should trade Byrd away for whatever they can get. It might be a reach to suggest Jackson will be ready to start in center on Opening Day 2012 (.265 AVG in AA this year -- with a .386 OBP, however), but it sure seems like he'll be ready at some point early on in the season.
Do DJ LeMahieu and Blake DeWitt suck? Possibly. But they also might be good. LeMahieu isn't ready to hit major league pitching today, but he also hasn't been completely overwhelmed, managing a .273 average in his short stint with the club. He also had a .492 slugging in AA before his call-up, along with a .358 average. He's also just 22 years old, so there's definitely room for him to grow, which he will do later this season once he's sent back down to Iowa. DeWitt is not Aramis Ramirez, but he's also just 25, and it looks like he'll have a chance to prove himself down the stretch. Slot those guys in for 2B and 3B for now.
That leaves first base. Despite his poor defense, give me the 28 year old vegetarian, Mr. Prince Fielder, over the rapidly aging Albert Pujols. Does anyone know how much money he wants? Maybe $25 mil for eight years? It sure seems like he'll be a pretty good hitter for a pretty good while. And if all he has to do is stand there at first...
So here's your 2012 lineup:
9 - Fukudome
5 - DeWitt
6 - Castro
3 - Fielder
2 - Soto
7 - Soriano
4 - LeMahieu
8 - Jackson
Rotation: Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Randy Wells
Bullpen: Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall
The two most obvious places that team could be upgraded would be at 2B and 3B, but it's up to you whether you prefer Kelly Johnson or Wilson Betemit to what we have now.
In 2013, the best-available free agent hitters will be outfielders: Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Angel Pagan (remember him?!), BJ Upton, Shane Victorino, Michael Bourn, and Carlos Quentin. Still not a lot of help for the infield, though (Freddy Sanchez? Macier Izturis?).
That said, there's a ton of free agent pitching hitting the market that offseason, including: Scott Baker (club option for $10mil), Matt Cain, John Danks, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Shaun Marcum, Anibal Sanchez, Jonathan Sanchez, and Jered Weaver. So take the $33 million you were paying Demp and Z, and pick your two favorites from that bunch.
So what do you think? Deal Soto, Marshall, and Garza? Or see what happens with our farm over the next 18 months?