What will this Cubs team look like next April? With several contract issues coming up, the kids on the farm knocking on the door, and huge dollars coming off the books, this upcoming off-season and free agency may be the most interesting and significant one in recent Cubs history.
- Fukudome, Pena, Grabow, Wood, and Johnson will be free agents.
- Ramirez has a $16MM mutual/vesting option for 2012 with a $2MM buyout. Dempster has a $14MM player option.
- Wells, Soto, and Garza will be arbitration eligible. Given the trade for Garza, we're likely to extend him on a new deal, and we could be extending Soto as well.
Per MLB Trade Rumors: Not counting Ramirez's buyout or Dempster's salary, the Cubs have a 2012 payroll obligation of $56.6MM, significantly below their typical $135MM range. If Ramirez and Dempster have poor seasons, the Cubs might have to add another $2MM for Ramirez's buyout and $14MM for Dempster's 2012 salary, bringing the obligation to $72.6MM. The team could have needs in the rotation and at both infield corners, plus a lot of money to spend, so it should be an interesting 2011-12 offseason.
So, prior to entering the outside free agent market, our payroll may be down to just $72.6MM, a 46% drop from $135MM. We may have vacancies in the rotation, and at 3rd and 1st. Plus, we'll likely have a serious infusion of talent from the farm.
- Let's not kid ourselves, this free agency class will be all about Pujols and Fielder. There isn't really a pitching ace on the market this off-season, as the top pitchers heading into free agency are Mark Buehrle (33 next March), Chris Carpenter (37 next April), and Edwin Jackson (28 next September). One real interesting piece could be Robinson Cano (29 next October), who I believe has an option, and could test free agency. Darwin Barney looks like a nice player, but Cano is a huge difference maker in the lineup, however any deal he signs will take him until he's 34 or 35... a situation the Cubs need to avoid, not repeat.
On the Farm:
- OF: Our system is loaded with some big time OF prospects right now. Brett Jackson is likely penciled in for a spot in 2012. And other top prospects like Jae-Hoon Ha, Michael Burgess, and Matt Szcuzr will be in camp next spring. This is the best group of OF prospect bats that I can ever recall in our system. Odds are very good that more than one of these guys becomes a stud for us.
- IF: We have some nice hitting prospects in the infield in Josh Vitters, Ryan Flaherty, and DJ LeMahieu. But it's really uncertain what position any of these guys should be playing at the major league level. And, we'll really need a position filled on the corners, with Castro locking down SS, and Barney looking like a quality 2B. The only way I see Barney getting moved aside, is for a serious signing like Cano, or a hot power bat like Flaherty, that we just can't keep out of the lineup.
- C: Hopefully the Koyie Hill era will finally come to an end, as Wellington Castillo looks like a major league catcher. Lower down on the farm, Steve Clevenger continues to hit the ball. The Cubs organization has been deep at catcher for a little while now, promoting Soto to the majors, and dealing Robinson Chirinos to Tampa in the Garza trade.
- Pitching: Our top two potential rotation arms right now are Trey McNutt and Rafael Dolis... in AA Tennessee. Considering the poor free agent crop for starting pitching, it will be important for one of our prospects to make an impact in the rotation. Casey Coleman (who's in the majors right now) Jay Jackson and Chris Carpenter would be our next three most ready options, but neither of them are really exciting. Last year's #1 pick, Hayden Simpson has to work his way through the system.
There's going to be a lot of turnover, prospects moving up, and some huge dollars available to spend in free agency. Then, there's the question of who's going to manage this team? When it's all said and done, the 2012 version of the Chicago Cubs could look drastically different than this year's version.