Much was made about David Price long before this offseason ever began. Some of that had to do with Price himself. During the All-Star break Price all but told the Cubs he wanted to pitch for them when he said:
“I’d love to win. I’d love somebody to have good players coming up to continue to win, like the Cubs. That’d probably be the coolest place to win a World Series, only because most people who are still breathing have not seen the Cubs win. I think anybody in this clubhouse would probably agree that would be the coolest place to win a World Series.”
However, while David Price is a top-of-rotation pitcher that is easily in top 5-10 in all of the league, signing him would had been diverting off of the course Theo set out on way back in 2011. We looked at some moves Theo has made that helped the Cubs get to this point recently, but what was most important with all of the moves Theo made was the fact that they were geared towards the long-term vision of the Cubs being consistently competitive and having payroll flexibility. Signing Price would not have been following that same path.
Theo Epstein and the Cubs front office understands why that payroll flexibility is important. The CBA is set to be renegotiated in 2016 and there are already issues beginning to brew. Who knows what changes could be made. More importantly, the Cubs have built a system that, ideally, does not need to always sign high-priced free agents to mega-contracts to be competitive. Whether it’s by utilizing prospect-currency within the Cubs minor league system that is filled with depth to make necessary trades, or by developing players to one day play at Wrigley Field, Theo always stated a desire to not be reliant on the free agent market to be competitive. To rely on free agency to be competitive is a recipe for disaster.
The Cubs will have a lot of their young, inexpensive core begin to get significantly more expensive between 2019-2022. If the Cubs hope to keep the pieces they value greatest and have worked hard to develop together for the long term, they simply could not have 2 pitcher in their mid-30’s and exiting their primes taking up almost $60 million dollars in payroll when 2019 rolls around. Regardless of a potential TV Cable deal.
So how do the Cubs address their needs without signing a big-name free agent?
Well, the good news is that the Chicago Cubs have plenty of options to choose from to address those needs.
Going into the offseason, Theo Epstein mentioned he wanted to improve the team’s ability to make contact, improve their outfield defense, baserunning, and also improve the amount of depth in their rotation. We have already discussed multiple scenarios for the Cubs to address these needs here, here, and here. Robert Killen also put a terrific piece together that showed why, by signing Shark we essentially get the same value of Zimmermann at nearly half the price. With trades happening at a blink or an eye and the big fish beginning to get hooked in free agency. Let’s take a look at who may realistically be on the Cubs roster to address those needs in the next week and a half.
- Will Venable– Highly unlikely and no rumored interest as of yet. If the Cubs make a major splash in a trade AND in free agency, Venable may be a player who could provide some potentially cheap depth in the OF. Though his 25% strikeout rate won’t help the club with making better contact.
- Austin Jackson– Another potential stopgap piece for the Cubs to bridge to Almora. Jackson played well in spurts for the Cubs after being acquired during last season. He’s still just 28 but has a career strikeout rate 23%.
- Denard Span– Heavily discussed and very likely could be a Cubs move. Span has a stellar career line of .287/.352/.395. Additionally, he has only struck out in 11% of his career plate appearances. The most important question on Span is his health.
- Jason Heyward– I love Heyward. It is not often that a player enters free agency simultaneously as he is entering his prime as well. At just 26 Heyward has already been good for nearly 28 WARP. He makes great contact and has reduced his K% each of the last 4 seasons. Questions with Heyward are if he can play centerfield consistently and how much he will demand on the market. I am not concerned with his ability to play centerfield as he proved more-than-capable in Busch Stadium, and Wrigley will be much easier. Assuming the Cubs make trades to acquire pitching, Heyward would be my first choice in free agency.
- Ian Kennedy– After having an uncharacteristic startto last season, Kennedy bounced back and had a stellar second half to the season. Depending on how much he is looking for, he may not be a bad fallback option.
- Scott Kazmir– Conversely, Kazmir started out strong but struggled mightily as the season wore on. Kazmir has familiarity with Maddon and if the Cubs acquire the depth to limit his innings he definitely is an interesting option and would be a terrific number 4 starter in the rotation.
- Carolos Carrasco– Would have to be acquired via trade. I love this guy. Controlled through 2020 for roughly $40 million total. Carrasco was good for 4.8 WARP last season and is lined up to do the same again next season. It would require the Cubs moving Soler+ to bring him in.
- Shelby Miller– Miller is another highly discussed option for the Chicago Cubs that would have to be acquired via trade. The Braves and Cubs have a history of trading, having hooked up on deals in each of the last 3 season. Miller is entering his first year of arbitration and coming off of a stellar season. I am less excited about Miller than some, especially if it costs Soler, but he definitely would be one of the best #3 starters in the big leagues if the Cubs do bring him in.
- Jeff Samardzija-A lot of Cubs fans that were angry when the Cubs traded Shark are not excited about bringing him back now. After looking at it in depth, we discussed why bringing back shark makes a ton of sense and how his 2014 season had a lot to do with the team around him. Shark has been able to stay healthy throughout his career and has low mileage on his arm. Additionally, he has not lost any velocity on his fastball like some other pitcher that just signed for a lot more than Shark will be signing for. If the Cubs go the free agent route for pitching, don’t be surprised to see Jeff Samardzija pitching in Wrigleyville again next season.
Obviously there are other options to discuss. This list provides a point of reference to discuss, however.
While I understand why a lot of fans were not excited to hear the Cubs did not sign David Price, it was the right move to make. The Cubs had a rotation that was towards the top of the leaderboard in each category in the National League last season. We do not need another 20-30 million dollar a year pitcher, we simply need an improved # 3 in the rotation. We simply cannot have Hammel AND Hendricks pitching in the NLCS.
Bringing back Shark or Lackey or Carrasco or Miller accomplish that without the Cubs having two high-cost, depreciating assets(30-year old pitchers on long term, 9 figure contracts) when our core “kids” become expensive.
Regardless of what the Cubs do between now and the end of the Winter Meetings, I have no doubt Theo Epstein will add the pieces needed to improve a ballclub that finished just 4 wins away from a National League Championship. He simply needs to stay the course.