The 2013 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings begin today in Orlando, Florida.
And given the weather in Chicago and much of the country, don't you wish you were there, too?
Theo Epstein and the rest of the Cubs baseball brass will be there, and by the end of the week, they will presumably, hopefully, return to Chicago with new Cubs baseball players in the fold, especially since the "haul" of recent weeks (George Kottaras, Wesley Wright, Casper Wells, the re-signing of Darnell McDonald) strikes fear into no one's heart.
Here, then, are five things the Cubs could do before the week is out. It's possible they'll surprise us and do nothing (which would be a bad thing) or do something completely different (which could turn out to be a good thing).
1. Trade Jeff Samardzija
Shark's been on trade watch much of the offseason, with teams like the Nationals, Braves and Padres (and as of Sunday, the Phillies) reportedly interested. Now that the Nats have traded for Doug Fister, they're probably off the list, and the Fister deal makes a trade for Shark problematic. The Tigers, as BCB's Kevin Aumiller pointed out last week, didn't get much for Fister, and Fister is a better and more consistent pitcher than Samardzija. So, unless the Cubs find a willing and somewhat desperate taker, they're probably better off giving Shark some kind of contract extension. Bruce Levine tweeted that a five-year, $55 million offer went nowhere, and that seems to be where Shark is going this week. But who knows, perhaps everyone will surprise us here.
2. Look for a righthanded-hitting outfielder
It's entirely possible that Junior Lake, who hit .377/.415/.541 in a very small-sample-size 65 plate appearances against lefthanders, could turn into a decent platoon outfielder. The problem is, of course, that Lake has very little experience as an outfielder, still seems pretty raw, and could use work on his approach in a number of different ways. That said, I think Lake is pretty much a lock for the major-league roster and could be a useful fourth or fifth outfielder.
There are several possibilities out there as free agents who could be signed to play this platoon role (most probably, in left field with Brian Bogusevic, who hit .291/.345/.496 with six home runs in 139 PA against RHP). We've talked about one of them in detail: former Brewers outfielder/first baseman Corey Hart. If Hart is healthy and could handle this platoon role in left field, he'd be perfect. He could also back up Anthony Rizzo at first base; the Cubs really didn't have a suitable RH-hitting first baseman in 2013 (and no, Cody Ransom doesn't count). Rizzo started all but four games at first base, played in all but two games, and that, I believe, showed in his performance. It would be great to get a good hitter who could play 20 games or so at first base.
Michael Morse, also coming off an injury-plagued season, is just two years past a .303/.360/.550 season with 31 home runs with the Nationals. Morse can also play first base.
If healthy, either of those players would be a good signing. This is a top priority, in my view, to get a righthanded hitter with some power.
3. Sign Masahiro Tanaka
It's not clear at this time exactly when the new posting agreement for players in Nippon Pro Baseball will take effect, or whether Tanaka's team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, will even post him, given that there is now a maximum bid that MLB teams can make.
It seems likely that, given the new system, multiple teams will submit the maximum bid (since there's no downside if they don't sign the player -- only the team the posted player actually signs with has to pay the posting fee), making the player or players who are posted free agents, effectively.
"We’re in the market for impact pitching and we would prefer guys in their prime or going into their prime, guys who you can control (contractually) for a long time," Cubs President Theo Epstein said Wednesday on CSN’s SportsTalk Live. "If our reports match with the industry perception of the player you’re talking about, then, yeah, we’ll be on him."
Tanaka fits that bill: a possible impact pitcher who is 25 years old. I'd like to see the Cubs go for him.
4. Go dumpster-diving for pitchers coming off injuries
This is a place where Theo Epstein has excelled over his two seasons running the Cubs baseball operations. He has identified several such pitchers (Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman, Scott Baker) who have provided decent pitching for the Cubs and then provided a haul of prospects and young proven major-league talent who are already helping the Cubs (Pedro Strop, Jake Arrieta) or who will soon -- Arodys Vizcaino, who according to Patrick Mooney at CSN Chicago is ready to be in the bullpen next season:
Vizcaino, 23, was ranked among Baseball America's Top 100 prospects for four straight years, but has missed the last two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery. Vizcaino is healthy now -- Epstein said he was throwing 98 mph in the Dominican instructional league -- and the Cubs will put him in the bullpen in 2014.
If that's true, and I have no reason to doubt that it is, there's a real good bullpen piece without making another signing or trade.
Scott Baker might return to the rotation, and if he does, I'd do it on an incentive-laden deal which would pay him if he piles up starts and innings.
The Cubs will need to find pitchers like this, especially if Shark is traded. One possible target could be Gavin Floyd, who will be 31 in January. Before he was injured last season (right elbow flexor), Floyd had been very consistent, piling up 29 or more starts for five straight seasons. Mike Pelfrey, who had a tough year in Minnesota coming off an injury, is another possibility.
So is Paul Maholm. He's 31 and again a free agent. He pitched well in Chicago and seemed to like being a Cub. Why not bring him back, at a reasonable price?
The Cubs have also been linked to possible dumpster-diving relief pitcher signings, including John Axford and Joba Chamberlain. I'd be fine with either of those (or pitchers like them, like David Aardsma or Brandon Lyon), at the right price.
5. Surprise us with a blockbuster trade
Did anyone here see the Prince Fielder trade coming? I'm not even sure what would qualify as "blockbuster" for the Cubs, since they don't have anyone of that caliber currently on the roster. Theo and Jed said at the season-ticket holder event that they didn't anticipate trading Starlin Castro, but what if they were able to package him in a major deal that netted a big-time starting pitcher, or someone like Giancarlo Stanton?
That's just speculation, of course, and I'm certainly not predicting it. But man, that would be a lot better than just reporting more minor-league signings.
Use this as your all-purpose Winter Meetings rumor post all day. If the Cubs make any actual news, I'll make a separate post.
Go for it, Theo. Make the team better, and give us some real news.