The MLB Winter Meetings are set to start on December 7 in Nashville, Tn. Last year we saw a flurry of activity with the media ready to name winners and losers of the offseason. We heard that the Padres in the NL and the White Sox of the AL were crowned the big winners of the 2014 meetings. Both teams made a big splash and acquired a lot of guys that looked great on paper. Unfortunately, those teams just never accomplished much on the baseball field which is where the real test was taking place.
The point is, it’s not who wins the meetings but rather who wins on the field. As soon as the World Series was over, the media was quick to tie just about every free agent to the Cubs. We all know that this just isn’t going to happen for various reasons. There are holes to be filled and we need to take a realistic look at what the Cubs may or may not do before they hit Spring Training in February. Everyone and their Uncle is looking for pitching and it’s good that there are so many free agents that can be had for the right price. Also, a center-fielder will be needed after Dexter Fowler elected to test the waters of free agency. These are the obvious things that even the casual fan can clearly see.
Theo Epstein usually is pretty transparent as to what the Cubs plans are without giving you specifics. He’s a master at keeping his hand close to the vest but this year he has told us that they want to add pitching depth with at least one guy being an impact pitcher. He also mentioned that he wanted to shore up the outfield defense. Finally, he mentioned about working to keep the opponents running game in check. Let’s take a look at these three areas with no particular priority.
The first thing to discuss is probably the easiest thing. That thing is how the Cubs can improve with stifling the opponent’s running game. The casual fan will be quick to jump all over Miguel Montero’s lack of arm strength as to the problem. It’s just not that simple in the real world. Pitchers have just as much responsibility to hold those runners close as the catcher has to throwing out potential base stealers, probably more so. We saw how the media repeated the same old song about Jon Lester’s inability to throw to the bases. But Lester worked hard on this aspect of his game and by the end of the season many in the media as well as other teams began to change their tune about this deficiency. We need all of our guys that take the mound to work just as hard!
With Fowler moving on to test the free agency waters, we need not only someone to play CF, but someone to take over the lead off duties. Theo mentioned also about the Cubs needing to make more contact and the leadoff hitter is a great area to get this accomplished. The easy fix would be to just sign Fowler again and dust yourself off. But alas, nothing is ever that simple. The Cubs have several solutions within the system that are about a year away from making their debut in Wrigley. The cost savings would be significant enough to say that a “stop gap” type of guy is much more attractive. This means the Cubs are probably looking for a player to acquire that has one to three years left on his current contract and is cost effective or sign a free agent with the same qualities. A Denard Span type of guy is the ideal solution. Marcell Ozuna is also rumored to be available but may not exactly be the ideal lead off guy and may have clubhouse issues according to the Marlins.
The Cubs could shock a few folks also by deciding that our available money for free agency would be best used if we signed Jason Heyward. Heyward could lead off and he could play all three OF spots. Realistically though, the Cubs may want to spend that kind of money to fill the other hole that Theo discussed which was to add depth to the pitching staff with at least one impact pitcher. Let’s not just dismiss the idea of Heyward, but rather know that if this is the master plan, the Cubs are considering trading away a few of those “core” guys to add the pitching depth needed. It’s a possibility to land Heyward but with all the OF depth in the minors that are real close to the majors, why sign Heyward to an 8 year deal unless you really think he is your guy on top of anything else that could fill the need.
So that brings us to that pink elephant in the room, the pitching solution. The Cubs have been linked to each and every free agent on the market but no one more so than David Price. As with the idea of signing Fowler, the Cubs could just sign Price and dust themselves off. But the Cubs have holes than just one pitcher. Chris Bosio warned us here when he spoke about how the Nationals went out and signed their guy and assumed winning the World Series was just a formality. The Cubs want to ensure that the guy(s) they add are the right pieces and will provide value during their entire stay with the Cubs. It could be argued that Price does give us value but that may only be during the first few years of his contract. Statistically speaking, as pitchers age their performance also declines. Both Lester and Price would be aging and realistically declining from a performance standpoint in the back half of those contracts. Many fans would be overjoyed now and then ready to crucify folks in a few short years. There has to be a better solution. A solution that ties into this idea of the Cubs being perennial favorites to make the playoffs.
The solution is somewhere in the middle. The Cubs will probably do a mix and match type of thing. They will probably trade a few guys as well as spend a little money. As much as folks want to say the Cubs should just spend money, the fact remains that the Cubs will spend money but won’t get back into a situation where they once again become handcuffed with aging players with bloated contracts. The financial situation with this team will get better. The announcement that the Cubs will look to have their own network will help, but this isn’t until the 2020 season starts. You just can’t spend money that you don’t have or hope to get 5 years from now. Our time to spend like drunken sailors will come but it’s not this winter.
This off-season is the most critical for Theo and his pals. It’s going to get real exciting real soon and we can bet the Cubs have done their homework. They are ready to wheel, deal and negotiate. The product on the field will be better. We are so close that many can taste it. We expect the Cubs to tinker with the roster and not totally transform it. The Cubs already took their rebuilding medicine, recovered from nauseating baseball and now are ready to flourish with a team that is ready to be called a dynasty!