I came across this idea when someone posted a link to this trade rumor earlier tonight, which has Carlos Zambrano going to the Mets for Luis Castillo, Fernando Martinez, and a AA prospect. I thinks the Cubs should do this, and enact a plan similar to the nice idea BLou posted a few days ago. But before I go any further, let me qualify everything else with two statements:
1. I don't believe this rumor is going to lead to anything, but it's a fun idea to discuss
2. I'm not one of the guys trying to run Z out of town. He's one of my favorite players. That said, trading him would give the Cubs a lot of flexibility in an offseason where players are seemingly being undervalued
Follow me below the fold to see a step-by-step plan for the rest of the offseason I think even BLou and I can agree on...
1. Do the trade above. Zambrano for Martinez, Castillo, and the unnamed AA prospect. This will free up ~$12M of yearly salary in 2010 and 2011, and $18M in 2012 and in 2013.
2. Sign Ben Sheets. Jaff Passan projects a 1-year, $7M deal for him. Sheets has been asking for a 2-year, $24M deal. What about this? The Cubs give Sheets a 1-year, $7M contract. Throw in an extra $1M for every 5 starts over 15 Sheets makes (i.e. $1M every time Sheets passes one of these numbers: 20, 25, and 30). If Sheets starts 30 games, it triggers a player option for a second year at $15M that the team can buy out of for $2M. This makes the deal worth at least $7M, and if Sheets makes 30 starts he'll get at least $12M for one year or $25M over two years. It meets his asking price if he's really healthy. If Sheets is healthy, the Cubs would be adding a pitcher about as good as Z to their rotation and they wouldn't really lose much. That said, Z is much, much, much more reliable than Sheets and this is admittedly a gamble.
3. Sign Aroldis Chapman. Passan projects a 5-year, $23M contract for him. Let's go a little over that and say the Cubs get him to sign a 5 year, $25M contract that pays $3M/$4M/$5M/$6M/$7M.
4. Sign John Smoltz. He could be a good 5 starter while Lilly is out with his injury, and could remain there if Gorzelanny struggles. If Lilly returns and Gorzelanny is pitching well, you could move him to the bullpen to either set up Marmol or to close if Marmol is struggling. Let's say a 1 year, $2M contract gets that done (I have no idea if it does, but that seems reasonable).
5. Sign Livan Hernandez to a minor league contract, and let him stay on as a bench coach or something if he doesn't make the team, can't find another team to sign him, and wants to stay in baseball. He'd be Chapman's mentor.
After these moves, the Cubs' rotation would be Sheets/Lilly/Dempster/Wells/Smoltz. They have Gorzelanny as the 6th starter, and insurance (from Smoltz) in case Marmol can't find the plate. The lineup would be Castillo/Fukudome/Lee/Ramirez/Byrd/Soriano/Soto/Theriot, with Baker playing a utility role and Fontenot as trade bait. Fernando Martinez and Aroldis Chapman would be waiting in the wings in AAA, and the Cubs would suddenly have a top-10 farm system without losing their ability to compete in 2010. If Fernandez tears up AAA again, he could be called up and tried at CF, shifting Byrd into a platoon/4th OF role.
These moves are roughly salary-neutral in 2010. The Cubs would add Castillo's contract ($6M) and free agent deals totaling $12M guaranteed in 2010, nearly equaling Zambrano's $17.785 salary. There would be an additional $7M of contracts in 2011 if Sheets's option vests and if it doesn't the Cubs would have $8M less on the books in 2011. Either way, in 2012 and 2013 the Cubs would be saving about $10M/season. That money will come in handy as the Cubs find out what holes need to be filled as they find out how good Chapman, Fernandez, Castro, Vitters, Cashner, Colvin, Jackson, and the other Jackson are.
This may be the only shawn-approved AND BLou-approved master plan you'll ever see. Do you approve?