On a slow day at the office, I decided to look through this coming offseason's crop of free agent options, trying to get a head start on matching up some of the potential needs of the Cubs with free agent depth.
With that in mind, I'd like to highlight some areas of need for the Cubs, in no particular order:
- Starting pitching: Hammel is most likely gone, and there's a good chance Shark will be gone too. Until we stop bringing in veteran starting pitchers, or we no longer have a need for better starting pitching, it'll be on the shopping list.
- Back-up Catcher: The system's catching situation is thin, and there's been no real player to step up and prove they can hold onto this role in the near future, and safe to say the incumbent, John Baker, could be upgraded.
- Outfield: It's tough to identify any particular spot in the outfield as a position of need, as they can all be upgraded. Sweeney and Ruggiano's injuries muddy things a bit, but expectations there are minimal for the future. Lake seems to be clinging to hope as a starter on this team, though he's most likely destined for a bench role. Schierholtz will almost assuredly be gone, and Bonifacio is a free agent after the season.
- Bullpen: A veteran being thrown into the mix, hopefully with more success than Veras.
Let's get it started with the most obvious area for improvement, starting pitching. There are tiers here, IMO:
- The elites: Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and Justin Masterson. These are guys that will be expensive, but have shown the ability to come in and dominate for stretches and anchor a rotation for the foreseeable future. That's nice, and expensive.
- The consolation prizes: James Shields and Ervin Santana. These are the guys that aren't studs, but are very good pitchers that will command serious money, albeit not as much as the first tier up there. Shields will be limited by his age and mileage, whereas Santana will be limited by his inconsistency earlier in his career (evidenced by his market this offseason). Both will be in line for multi-year deals worth very good money.
- The "Can they do it agains?": Francisco Liriano and Josh Beckett. These guys have up years and down years, and although they are currently trending in opposite directions, there's plenty of time this year for that to change. Liriano has been a bit rough this year, with some hints of luck-related results, while Beckett has enjoyed success of a similar fashion. This is the high risk/high reward class, IMO, so buyer beware.
- The competent veterans: Gavin Floyd, Jason Hammel, Dan Haren, Brandon McCarthy, Edinson Volquez (arguable, but there's flashes still there), Colby Lewis, etc. Here's where the front office has been able to find some value over the years. Ironically, doubtful they do what Jason Hammel is currently doing, but also doubtful they do what Carlos Villanueva has done this year in the rotation.
Outfield help is going to be MUCH tougher to find this offseason, if we're strictly looking at free agents. There isn't a single stud in the bunch, but there is a little intrigue here and there.
- Emilio Bonifacio, as previously mentioned, will be a free agent, and his performance the rest of the way will dictate what kind of deal he gets this offseason. He's only 30, it may not be a horrible idea to extend him a couple of years, as that versatility will always be helpful. If he plays well all year, he'll get pricy.
- Melky Cabrera will be interesting to watch this offseason, considering his history with PEDs and the suspension looming over his head, should he be caught again. That said, he's been hitting well this year, and I'm sure he's being tested more than most. At age 30, he's got a shot at a decent-sized contract too, maybe a 3 year deal with some specific contract language details.
- Chris Denorfia won't win any awards, but he's a solid ballplayer with a 3.9 fWAR season last year, and could be a steady veteran presence, similar to the expectations of Schierholtz. He's not a RH-platoon player, as he's batted pretty well against both lefties and righties over his career. He's been a bit hit or miss with the defensive statistics, but they loved him last year.
- Possibly the most intriguing name on the list is Colby Rasmus, a guy that's had an interesting career to date, and has been on a roller-coaster of success/failure. He's been pretty rough against lefties when compared to righties, so there's platoon possibilities here, but he's also going to be 28 with 4.0 and 4.8 fWAR seasons in his resume. Expect a big contract by someone that notices the lack of impact bats in the outfield this offseason.
- This is a year in which closer options should be a plenty.Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, Casey Janssen, Chris Perez, Sergio Romo and Francisco Rodriguez have all had extended periods of success as closers and are all scheduled to be free agents.
- Luke Gregerson and David Robertson represent guys in their early 30s with both closing and set-up experience that may not have the price tag of some of the more successful pitchers in the above category.
So, judging by what you've seen of the squad so far this year, what do you think? Will the Cubs be players in the free agency period, and if you think so, who will they be looking hardest at? I could very well see an offseason package of Justin Masterson/Ervin Santana, Chris Denorfia/Emilio Bonifacio, Luke Gregerson and John Buck.