Today, just for the sake of thought exercises, let's pretend that the Cubs can indeed spend a lot of money this offseason and that they can get whomever they want to fill in the gaps in a roster on the rise. We will have to work with a few assumptions here:
- As stated in the introduction, we assume that the Cubs can spend anywhere between $30-50MM in the offseason above their previous commitments, taking their 2015 payroll to no more than approximately $105MM.
- There are various prospects that are almost MLB-ready and can fill out the infield to supplement Starlin Castro (shortstop) and Anthony Rizzo (first base). So we're looking at mostly utility guys or outfielders in the position player set.
- There are enough power arms already in-house that spending money on relief pitching isn't a necessity unless a bargain arises.
- The rotation is in flux, even though Jake Arrieta has been pitching well, so we actually don't know which guys the Cubs will tab to man the rotation next year, but it's very likely to be anchored by Arrieta, Edwin Jackson (assuming no trade or DFA) and Travis Wood along with a bunch of 4/5 types and whoever decides to show promise in spring training.
- The Cubs are once again spectacularly bad (still watchable!) so they will have a protected draft pick. At the end of play on July 26, they were in possession of the third-worst record in MLB (only better than Texas and Houston) and hold the tiebreaker against Colorado. Given Houston's Brady Aiken shenanigans, the Astros currently possess the #2 pick as compensation in the 2015 draft, which means the Cubs will pick fourth instead of third. The Cubs are only a couple games behind the Rangers so they do have a shot at the top pick, but the only thing we really care about right now is the protected first-rounder. They could try to snag extra picks to mitigate the loss of a protected pick should they go on a tear, but let's neglect that possibility for now.
- Any would-be free agent that has an option is assumed to remain with their parent club, and if bought out, is assumed to suck and therefore we stay far, far away from that guy. It's simplistic and unfair, but it's my thought exercise so just bear with it.
- Until the National League adopts the DH, any player who has spent most of their playing time as a DH is automatically eliminated from consideration.
- I didn't try to calculate projections or anything crazy like that (I'm just not that good at it) so I'm not going to have defined WAR$ estimates for every player I'm speculating about. I'm simply using previous player comparisons to figure out potential salaries that seem reasonable without regard for inflation or how the price for a win on the free agent market may have changed over the past year. This is a ballpark exercise, excuse the pun.
Given those assumptions listed above, I then took another look at the free agent list for this winter. I decided to just base this on player ability for the sake of simplicity and not worry about whether their bat/arm would pay well in Wrigley for now. Basically: would this guy be available, and how much would he cost? We'll worry about whether it actually makes complete sense later.
While Welington Castillo has done an admirable job behind the plate, the bat is kind of stale and he's not exactly a spring chicken anymore. There are also criticisms about his pitch-framing, although he sure has a cannon of an arm. IF (big if) the Cubs elect to go after a free agent catcher and relegate Beef to the backup role (which he'd be pretty good at anyway), there are two options that jump out at me: Russell Martin and Kurt Suzuki. Of the two, Martin has been more consistent offensively over his career while Suzuki had a career year and his first All-Star appearance this season. My hope is that the market doesn't go nuts because of the lack of catcher depth in the free agent ranks, such that the Cubs can snag one of these guys for a short-term deal (3-4 years) at about $8-10MM per year, ballpark. What might actually happen is that they bank on Beef bouncing back as he is both younger and cheaper than the two I mentioned. Catcher isn't as big of a need but there is no heir apparent in the minors unless the Cubs do let Kyle Schwarber stick there, or Mark Zagunis continues to shine as he's shown early in his pro career. This is one of those "if there's money lying around" kind of deals and only if it's at the right price, and I've already gone a bit liberal in my guesstimate for what they might command. I'm not sure if either guy will warrant a qualifying offer, but I wouldn't be surprised.
The gentleman that immediately comes to mind here is Emilio Bonifacio, who doesn't exactly have a good bat but can play just about anywhere in the field except the battery and is pretty fast (albeit a tad stupid on the basepaths). I'd look for a third base option except for the part where the Cubs have like 500 shortstops and they all like to hit homers, which means any one of them could stick at the hot corner. Ben Zobrist would be attractive but I don't think the Rays let him go (club option) and he's getting up there in years; I feel like his versatility could be bought cheaper in the form of Bonifacio, Arismendy Alcantara and/or Luis Valbuena anyway. Chase Headley is inconsistent and frankly kind of scares me with his crappy numbers over the past couple seasons. Aramis Ramirez is unfortunately too old although I still love the guy. Hanley Ramirez is going to be expensive and seems to be broken all the time. And I have no idea what to expect from Pablo Sandoval. Third base can be filled in-house, but versatility is desirable and the Cubs might be able to get Bonifacio for something like two years and $4MM per year.
There are two options that make sense to me that are young enough and perform well enough (hopefully) to be worth the Cubs' while. Both of them happen to be Blue Jays: Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus. Conceivably, both could receive the qualifying offer and cost the Cubs their top unprotected pick if signed. Melky has the PED specter over him, but who cares; he can play. Dabynsky previously made his case for Rasmus. Unfortunately, these guys will be expensive. I'm thinking somewhere between what Michael Bourn got (4 years, $48MM) and what Curtis Granderson got (4 years, $60MM).
I was thinking once upon a time that it might be cool to get Jason Hammel back, but he's been kind of meh for the A's since the trade so maybe not unless he's willing to come back for cheap--and even then, do we think he can capture the same magic as the first half of this year? I'm going to go with the negative on that one.
We can divide the pitching crew into three groups: 1) the ones eligible for a qualifying offer; 2) the ones who were traded (or might be traded) and would no longer be eligible for a qualifying offer; and 3) the guys who wouldn't get a QO.
These will include Ervin Santana (Dabynsky blogged about this possibility before Ervin signed with Atlanta this spring), Max Scherzer, James Shields, and Jon Lester if he isn't traded. Let's assume that they will get at least the QO amount as average annual value (probably close to $14.5MM this year) and will command at least a five-year deal. Also recall that Scherzer rejected a contract extension that would have paid him around $24MM per year this spring, so the Cubs will have to pay at least $20MM per year for Scherzer's services assuming he even wants to play for Chicago. Lester has suggested that he would like to return to Boston even after a trade, but so far the Red Sox have lowballed him in contract talks, so those talks are being tabled for now. Lester is having a great season and should be able to reasonably command at a $20MM/year payday, higher than the 4 year/$70MM extension offer that was rumored. I imagine Shields and Santana will cost $15MM/year or so.
This group includes Hammel (who is currently meh), Brandon McCarthy (who is awesome at Twitter and is pitching well for the Yankees post-trade), and Lester if he's traded. The benefit of this group is not losing a draft pick (it just costs money). Lester would be the obvious target, but McCarthy would be cheaper and has excellent peripherals despite his poor ERA in the desert pre-trade. I'd go with a deal around what Matt Garza received (4 years/$50MM) for McCarthy, less for Hammel.
No QO Guys:
This group includes underperforming or perpetually injured guys like Francisco Liriano and Justin Masterson. They've shown flashes of brilliance in the past and could be due for a bounceback, but I'm guessing their parent clubs don't want to wager a qualifying offer on that. Let's put these guys on a Scott Kazmir reclamation contract (2 years/$22MM).
The only guy that the Cubs may even try to bring back for cheap is Kyuji Fujikawa, assuming his rehab goes well and he pitches like Jed Hoyer thought he would when the contract was inked. I was going to fantasize about getting Koji Uehara to the Cubs but he's 40 (!!! wow) and will probably be super-expensive. I don't see the Cubs spending more than $3MM on Kyuji if they do bring him back.
Totaling it up-
Let's just do this for the first year of their contracts, 2015, and see if the math fits:
- Catcher = $8-10MM (maybe one QO guy)
- Utility Guy = $4MM
- Outfielder = $12-15MM (one QO guy)
- Starting Pitcher = $11-24MM (maybe one QO guy)
- Kyuji = $3MM
The math seems to work, so now it'll be interesting to see how the Cubs maneuver around losing slot pool money if they sign QO guys (this means they could lose anywhere from one to three picks after the first round). It will also remain to be seen whether the Ricketts Family can fit these expenditures (which I think are reasonable) within their debt repayment plan.
But there are worthwhile options out there, and money to be spent, so we'll have to wait and see if the Cubs put their money where their mouth is. I mean, they didn't flat out say that they were going to splurge, but the signs were there. Why not dream?
Filed under: Chicago Cubs
Tags: Aramis Ramirez, Ben Zobrist, Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, Chicago Cubs, Colby Rasmus, emilio bonifacio, Ervin Santana, Francisco Liriano, free agency, Hanley Ramirez, James Shields, Jason Hammel, Jon Lester, Justin Masterson, Kenta Maeda, Kurt Suzuki, Kyuji Fujikawa, Max Scherzer, Melky Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval, Payroll, Russell Martin