Take yourself back to the beginning of the offseason, and imagine this was the headline:
Now that doesn't sound too bad, does it? This is the extent of the Cubs major moves thus far in the offseason, and it's a pretty good set of maneuvers by the Cubs' GM, Jim Hendry. The Cubs came into the offseason with the following priorities: 1.) acquire a CF, 2.) move Milton Bradley, 3.) keep in mind payroll is capped at ~$140M. Jim Hendry did an admirable job accomplishing 1. and 2., and did so without significantly increasing team payroll in 2010 or 2011. Marlon Byrd and Mike Cameron were the best CF options on the free agent market, and once the Yankees swooped in and scooped up Curtis Granderson there weren't any eminently available CF options on the trade market, either. Once the Red Sox signed Cameron, Byrd was the only reasonable option left, and Hendry signed him to a 3-year, $15M contract. Byrd will make $3M in 2010, $5.5M in 2011, and $6.5M in 2012. When trading Bradley, the Cubs "acquired" Carlos Silva, and in the process lowered the team salary by $5M over the next two years, assuming they buy out SIlva's contract next year (Silva is owed $25M over the next two years, Bradley was owed $21M and the Cubs will get $9M from the Mariners). The Cubs freed an additional $1.7M by trading Miles (and Jake Fox) for prospects, meaning the net change in salaries for those 3 moves is an additional $1.8M over the next two seasons and an additional $6.5M in 2012. That's pretty good. Where do the Cubs project to finish the season now? Follow me below the fold to find out...
Well I had the Cubs projected to win 87-88 games (looking back, the Cubs are well on their way to running with "Plan C" in that post) assuming they kept last year's roster largely intact by re-signing Harden and finding a way to make amends with Bradley. By removing Bradley, shifting Fukudome to RF, and signing Byrd to play CF, the Cubs are projected lose about 12-13 runs on offense and gain about 12-13 runs on defense. Let's call that a wash. Fox will get a lot less playing time with the acquisition of Byrd and trading of Bradley, as Bradley's proclivity for injuries and suspensions reduced his projected playing time (and raised those of Fox). Besides, Fuld's glove and Colvin's left-handed bat are better fits for this team, as currently constructed. So while Fox did have some value, he has a lot less now that the Cubs signed Marlon Byrd and traded Bradley.
There's one other major change from last year's team to this year's team: no Rich Harden. Harden was projected to give the Cubs 2.68 WAR. The Cubs are (hopefully) replacing him with innings from Tom Gorzelanny, unless they roll the dice and win with another injury-risk pitcher like Erik Bedard or Ben Sheets. If that's the case, and Gorzelanny is only going projected to post ~1.5 wins less than Harden if given the same IP. That would leave the Cubs in the 85-87 win range. That's not a bad team, but it's not a playoff team, either. I'd like to see them make one more move to push that projected win total into the high 80's.
There are basically three places the Cubs can still significantly improve their projections:
If Kelly Johnson hadn't been signed by the Diamondbacks, he'd be the ideal acquisition. He's a LH bat that's primed for a rebound season. If the Cubs had signed him and moved Baker to the "DeRosa role" (platoon/utility player) they'd have a great shot at 88-90 wins. The only players left at 2B on the free agent market worth writing about are Orlando Hudson and Felipe Lopez. They're both switch hitters that could lead off, and both should be 2-3 win players, and would allow Baker to give the Cubs good versatility defensively. A 2-year, $6-$8M contract may get it done. That would bring the Cubs projected win total in the range of 87-90 wins, just below where you want to be if you plan to make the playoffs. The other option is to explore a trade for someone like Dan Uggla. Yes, he was brutal defensively last season but overall he's been slightly below average in the field, and well above it at the plate. He should be at least a 3-win player in 2010. If the Cubs acquired him, I'd be optimistic about 2010.
I'm not a Ryan Theriot hater. But the Cubs seem ready to roll with Starlin Castro at SS for the forseeable future. If that's the case, you could sign a SS to a 1-2 year contract and move Theriot to second base. This would again move Baker to a utility role. Miguel Tejada is still available, and could produce 2-3 wins for the Cubs. I'm not sure what he's asking for in terms of contracts, but my guess is that number is too high. He'd still be offering a 1-2 year deal worth $6-$8M, but I'm not sure he accepts it. I'd also prefer the lead-off switch hitter type to the power-hitting RH bat Tejada carries. That's the extent of the free agent options I'd be interested in.
I'm not optimistic about Carlos Marmol's ability to close out games. He's wild. REALLY wild. In an ideal world, the Cubs would have paired the $3M/year or so they have left to spend with the $3.5M/year they already committed to John Grabow and go after a guy like Rafael Soriano or Mike Gonzalez. Still, with the options dwindling for him, maybe the Cubs can get Jose Valverde at a discount. A back end of Valverde/Marmol should be both obnoxious and effective.
Finally, the Cubs could go after a pitcher that's an injury risk, such as Ben Sheets or Erik Bedard. I don't know how much money these guys are looking for, but they may fit into the Cubs budget. This would effectively replace Harden's spot as a highly effective pitcher of questionable durability. Gorzelanny would return to the 6th starter's role, and would fill in for Lilly at the start of the year. He'd also be a good replacement should Sheets/Bedard get injured. I really, really like this option, and hope the Cubs pursue it. Something like $4M in 2010 with incentives based on IP to bring it up to $10M would make sense, as if the Cubs get a full year of Sheets/Bedard they'll be in playoff contention and a good bet to pay off the extra $6M.
So thus far, it's the moves Hendry hasn't made that has been the problem with the offsason. He didn't get Gradnerson or Cameron. He didn't bring back Rich Harden, and he wasn't the guy that stole Cliff Lee for next to nothing. More generally, he hasn't gotten a second baseman or a shortstop. He hasn't gotten a left-handed bat. He hasn't gotten a closer or a starting pitcher. The good news is that there are good bargains still on the market, and Hendry only needs to make one or two of these moves to make the Cubs a contender. What's the saying around here for that?