I imagine that if we’d heard the news that the Cubs signed Jordan Zimmermann for 5 years and $110M instead of the Tigers, we’d have been alright with that. Some may have even been quite happy with it.
But the fact that the Cubs took a pass on this likely means they’ll get something better, though that doesn’t necessarily mean bigger.
Zimmerman is a solid mid-rotation add with a good track record of past performance. I believe he got good market value. The most optimistic reports had him at a similar AAV but at 6 years instead of 5. All in all, I think Zimmerman did well.
We could look at it in two ways. The Cubs want something bigger — as in David Price or Zach Greinke. It could also mean they want better value, whether that be through a cost-controlled starter via trade or a free agent pitcher whom they believe to have similar future value at a lower price. That could mean Jeff Samardzija, who projects similarly for 2016 but could come at better value because of an off season with the White Sox in 2015.
It’s not that the Cubs have a steadfast rule that they don’t want to invest heavily on a pitcher, but we’ve seen for the past 4 years that they are only willing to do that for certain pitchers who fit their organizational philosophy. Jon Lester is one such pitcher and I think David Price is another. The question is how much. The Red Sox may put a monkey wrench in any Cubs plans to get Price on reasonable terms, indicating they’re willing to outbid any team by a significant margin to obtain his services. As I’ve said often, Price will likely have to take less money if he wants to pitch for the Cubs. That doesn’t happen often in baseball, but it is not unheard of. In fact. there are rumors the Giants offered more money than the Cubs last offseason for Lester. Can lightning strike twice? The Cubs certainly have become a preferred destination, but that doesn’t mean a free agent will leave money on the table.
In the absence of getting something bigger, there is the possibility of getting a pitcher that projects similarly to Zimmerman but at less financial cost. Samardzija is one example. A trade for a cost-controlled pitcher like Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, Danny Salazar. Carlos Carrasco, or any of the other names bandied about this offseason would be another. Those kinds of pitchers could make a similar or even bigger impact at far less financial cost — but when we’re talking trade there is still the question of prospect cost. For example, I like Salazar better than I like Miller, but do I like him so much better that I would rather trade a core player to obtain him if Miller may be had in exchange for organizational depth? Probably not.
There is also the question of how the Cubs acquire the second starter they are rumored to be seeking. If that secondary pitcher is John Lackey, for example, how does that change their stance on Samardzija. Both players will require draft pick compensation. The Cubs prefer not to lose draft picks, but this year is different because it is a low first round pick and the Cubs may well end up compensating for that loss to some degree if Dexter Fowler signs elsewhere. But would they be willing to give up two picks to bring in those two pitchers? Or is punting the top of the draft preferable to giving up the kinds of prospects or young players it may take to acquire that cost-controlled starter via trade? Or would the Cubs prefer to trade depth at the top and continue restocking through the lower levels via the draft?
It is a complex decision. There are a lot of contingencies involved. One decision affects the next as the path the Cubs take may differ depending on each individual decision. We tend to look at offseason plans as a wishlist but it more likely resembles a flow chart that depends on future value, organizational fit. contract terms, trade cost, draft pick compensation, etc.
Right now, the situation is still rather fluid for the Cubs, but I think once they make that first big decision we’ll begin to get a better idea of the path this offseason will take.
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