Since taking over in 2011 Theo Epstein has done a terrific job of finding players of surplus value on the free agent market. Early on in the rebuild, Theo would identify “project” or “bounce-back” candidates to sign on one year deals and flip them at the trade deadline for long term assets.
Some of those “surplus value” signings, such as Scott Fieldman, Paul Maholm, and Jason Hammel, have either been the center piece and have been the secondary piece in acquiring key players to Cubs 2015 NLCS team. Those 3 pitchers have played a role in the Cubs currently having Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, Tommy LaStella, and Addison Russell on the big league club as well as Billy McKinney coming up in the minors. These are just a few examples of why we are thankful that Theo is with the Cubs.
Coming off of a 2015 season that saw the Cubs win a playoff series for the first time in 13 seasons before falling the the Mets in the NL championship series, Theo is no longer looking for surplus value to flip at the deadline, but instead for players that will help the team take the next step while providing added payroll flexibility over the coming seasons.
With that, let’s take a look at 3 players that may be potential Black Friday bargains for the Cubs on the free agent market.
Span has already been a heavy topic of conversation around the water cooler this offseason and that is not going to lighten up any time soon. Early reports had Span getting around 36-40 million over 3 seasons. That’s a little high for my liking and would like to see the Cubs pass if that’s the contract.
However, if the market drops to 2 seasons at 22-24 million that’s a bit more palatable. While the AAV does not dramatically change, the one less year and 14-16 million in total contract is a major value for Span. Adding to Span’s value is the fact that signing him does not come at the cost of losing a draft selection as the Nationals did not extend a qualified offer to Span this offseason.
For his career Span has a .287 Batting Average to go along with a .352 on-base percentage. Additionally, Span has only struck out in roughly 11% percent of his plate appearances for his career. Making contact and getting on base ahead of the big bats in the middle of the Cubs order is a stated point of emphasis for the Theo Epstein this offseason. At just 32 next season, Span seemingly still has some quality ball ahead of him as he exits his prime years.
The problem with Span is that he had hip surgery not that long ago. Hips are such an important part of baseball. The ability to rotate your hips and create the torque needed to get the power necessary in your swing cannot be understated. Power is not just something that shows itself in homeruns. When a player like Span, who has a solid approach and makes consistent contact, cannot create the same torque needed to drive the ball, hard-contact, line-drives become weak-contact, groundballs. That injury may be the only reason a player with the resume of Span is available for at a potential discount and without a QO attached to him.
If the market for Span were to fall into the 2 year, 24 million dollar range and the Cubs doctors felt like he would be able to make a full recovery and perform at the level he has throughout his career, then Span becomes surplus value for the Cubs as a leadoff hitter with a terrific contact rate that gets on base consistently and plays Centerfield. All of that while being able to maintain payroll flexibility to fill other holes on the roster, namely the starting rotation, ahead of 2016.
Look. I don’t love Fister at all. But Fister is a proven pitcher at the MLB level and that is very important. I use the word, PITCHER, intentionally to underscore it’s importance. He was never a thrower. He is a pitcher, which means certain mechanical adjustments can help get Fister closer to a 2013 version of himself than a 2015 one.
There has been much made about Fisters drop in velocity from 87-88 on his 2-seam fastball to 85 mph average. In reality, a major league hitter can hit an 88 mph 2-seamer as easily as he can an 85 mph 2-seamer. I’m not saying it’s not a factor whatsoever, I am saying it is not a primary reason for Fisters down 2015 season. Fisters 2015 season saw the 3rd consecutive season in which Fister had a reduced groundball rate and an increase HR/9 innings rate. Maybe it’s been the repertoire he has been using, the location he is hitting within the strikezone could be an issue as well. As a sinker-baller he needs to keep the ball low and he just did not do a good job of that last season.
All of that said, Fister could likely be had on one of those “prove-it” type deals that Theo used early on in the rebuild years to bring a pitcher in, have him work with Chris Bosio, and ship him off in a heist at mid-season. If Fister were to be signed to a 1-year deal with low guaranteed money, say 5 million, with incentives, that could bring back surplus value if Bosio could help straighten out his repertoire and mechanical issues and get Fister back to inducing more groundball outs.
Just remember, especially in Fisters case, that when you shop the bargain bin, sometimes the toys break as soon as you get them out of the box.
The dominant topic of debate amongst Cubs fans the last few weeks has been “at what point, dollar wise, is it okay to bring Shark back?”. For some fans it’s never regardless of the potential value as they see Shark as a guy who had a chance to sign long-term and was likely overrated to begin with. I have an inkling those are the same fans who were angry when Shark was shipped out, as well.
Samardizja did not see any dip in velocity last season as he struggled with the White Sox and he still has less wear and tear on his arm than most free agent pitchers available. As John Arguello has pointed out countless times over at Cubs Den, the changed repertoire that White Sox management had Shark delivering game in and game out played a large role in the 2015 campaign. We here at Cubs Chat also discussed how pitching with the worst defense in baseball playing behind him did not do Shark any favors. Overall, Samardizja is much closer to the 2014 pitcher that posted a 2.99 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 3.07 xFIP, 4.1 WARP than he is the pitcher the White Sox had last season.
If current rumors are true that Shark is looking at a 4 year, 60-65 million dollar deal then that has Black Friday Doorbuster written all over it. As Robert Killen broke down in his “to sign or not to sign” piece just a few days ago that looked at a direct comparison between Shark and a fan-favorite to sign Jordan Zimmerman, we have a potentially 100 million+ pitcher available for almost half the overall commitment. With Bosio, Samardizja could be working on the same gameplan and repertoire that made him appear to be one of the next 100+ million dollar starters just 2 seasons ago. As importantly, he would have a top 10 defense in baseball behind him and the game-plan that Bosio typically put in place for Shark’s starts allowed him to excel in 2014.
If Shark returns to that 2014 form then you have a pitcher that is good for 3.5-4.0 WARP at a significant surplus value. The commitment is also only for 4 years as opposed to the 6 or 7 it will likely take to land a Zimmerman or Price. Again, making a move like this allows the Cubs to address a major need while having the resources needed to improve the ballclub in other areas as well.
So there you have it. Three potential Black Friday sales as we inch closer to the Winter Meetings in Nashville on December 7th. Now back to my online shopping!