We're in the throes of the offseason right now. It seems that nothing is happening while simultaneously every major free agent could sign on a moment's notice.
Since we're here, the good folks at BCB thought it might be nice to state what our ideal Cubs offseason would look like. Now, when I say ideal, it is with the qualifier that it has to be realistic. We can't sign Jon Lester for $1 or trade Edwin Jackson for Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. Both of those moves would be awesome, but they're never happening.
So here are the three very simple ground rules: the 2015 Cubs have a $110 million budget for the 25-man roster, we have to take the baseball landscape as it exists on November 20 (no Russell Martin and we've already got Tsuyoshi Wada), and all moves have to be reasonable for the Cubs and for the opposing team/agent involved. That's it. With the table set, let's roll!
Transaction #1: Cubs do not tender a contract to catcher John Baker
This one is incredibly simple to me. Baker is a replacement-level player slated to make more than double the minimum salary.
Transaction #2: Cubs sign starting pitcher Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $189 million contract with a club option for $27 million for an eighth year and a $7 million buyout
Pfew! Yes, guaranteeing $196 million to 30-year-old pitcher sounds insane. And it is, in a general sense anyway. But for a ball club worth a couple billion dollars and desperately in need of an ace, Scherzer is the easiest option. Scherzer is a bona fide ace, having grown into his immense stuff over the past few years. Also, there's this comparison of two pitchers from 2011-13:
Pitcher A: 3.84 FIP, 7.74 K/9, 3.10 BB/9, 0.94 HR/9
Pitcher B: 3.73 FIP, 7.18 K/9, 2.85 BB/9, 0.88 HR/9
Pitcher A is Jon Lester. Lester was a really solid pitcher over that three year stretch and he certainly gets bonus points for (i) pitching in the American League East, and (ii) his postseason performance.
Pitcher B is Edwin Jackson.
Obviously 2014 went wildly differently for these two. That matters. But as recently as seven months ago, you could make a well-supported argument that Edwin and Lester were peers.
Over that same span, Scherzer posted a 3.36 FIP, 9.72 K/9, 2.59 BB/9, and 1.06 HR/9 prior to another brilliant year in 2014. He has been enough better than other aces to justify the crazy price tag. I figure that Lester is going to end up just north of $150 million on a six-year pact; I'd rather pop the extra year and grab the much better arm, even if Scherzer's delivery is terrifying and his velocity is starting to fade.
Transaction #3: Cubs sign third baseman Chase Headley to a five-year, $75 million contract
I know, I know: why do the Cubs need a third baseman with Luis Valbuena, Kris Bryant, and whichever-shortstop-gets-bumped all in tow? Well, see below on Valbuena, I think Bryant is moving to left field, and the shortstop situation isn't forcing a resolution just yet. Until we know more about Javier Baez's penchant for swinging and until I'm satisfied that Addison Russell's hamstring is 100%, I'm alright hanging on to our shortstop surplus. I'd still move one in the right deal, but barring a big offer, it's fine to hold them all.
But all of that misses the point. Even at this somewhat inflated price, Headley still figures to be the best value buy of the winter. His glove is elite at the hot corner and his bat has proved to be plenty useful when not stuck in Petco Park. The benefit of pushing Bryant to left field right away avoids the potentially uncomfortable situation of watching Bryant's possibly average glove at third base before requesting that he ply his trade on the grass. Bryant will move for Headley.
Transaction #4: Cubs trade third baseman Luis Valbuena, outfielder Chris Coghlan, and third baseman Christian Villanueva to Blue Jays for starting pitcher Daniel Norris
Toronto is making a run at the big third basemen, but I suspect that they'll come up short on Pablo Sandoval and I have the Cubs nabbing Chase Headley. They'll sate themselves here by reuniting with a much different Valbuena than the one who spent spring training with the club in 2012. They also fill Melky Cabrera's lefty corner outfielder hole with the rejuvenated Coghlan. This presumes that the Jays find themselves strapped for cash while simultaneously wanting to make a big run in 2015, hardly an outlandish possibility.
The Cubs deal from their depth to acquire a potential mid-rotation starter, one who enjoyed an excellent 2014 season after years of suggesting great things without fully delivering them. Norris finds himself seventh on the starting pitching depth chart behind Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and J.A. Happ, making him a luxury good that Toronto likely cannot afford as it seeks to make a run. The upside play is worth it for the Cubs.
Transaction #5: Cubs trade starting pitcher Travis Wood to Mariners for starting pitcher Tyler Pike
From my point of view, the Twins, Mets, and Yankees also make plenty of sense for Wood. But the Mariners are the best mixture of need and willingness to absorb his $5.5 million salary, so I think the deal gets done here.
Pike was solidly on the prospect radar before a disastrous 2014 campaign sent him tumbling down rankings. His ceiling is basically that of good Travis Wood. Such a deal enables the Cubs to nab some value for Wood as opposed to merely deciding not to tender him a contract.
Transaction #6: Cubs trade starting pitcher Edwin Jackson and $11 million to Athletics for starting pitcher Dylan Covey and outfielder B.J. Boyd
The A's are precisely the type of team to take a shot on Edwin. In this proposal, the Cubs eat half of his remaining salary in order to nab two low-level lottery tickets. It's not a sexy move, but the payroll space is valuable to the Cubs this winter while the A's love grabbing buy-low candidates with successful resumes.
Transaction #7: Cubs sign starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy to a three-year, $42 million contract
With Edwin shipped off to Oakland, the Cubs fill his spot with a pitcher on a similar contract, but one with a decidedly different profile. Whereas Edwin was seen as reliably decent, McCarthy has a much higher ceiling with tons of injuries on his resume. McCarthy has made 30 starts just once in his career, but when he pitches, the results have been strong for four straight years. Given the starting pitching depth that the Cubs have amassed and continue to develop, it seems wise to grab an arm with a higher ceiling like McCarthy, figuring that internal candidates can help pick up the slack should injuries keep him at or near his floor instead.
Transaction #8: Cubs sign catcher David Ross to a one year, $1.5 million contract
I have no idea what the market will be for Ross, but his defensive profile would be a nice addition.
Given those moves, here is my final roster with 26 guys listed (teams always play around with the last spot):
That's $38.1 million of position players, $58.3M of pitchers, and $6.0 million of dead money ($5.5 million for Edwin, $0.5 million for Kyuji Fujikawa's buyout) for a total payroll of $102.4 million. The roster would be as follows:
Bench: C Ross, IF Watkins, IF La Stella, OF Ruggiano, OF Sweeney
Bullpen: Rondon, Ramirez, Strop, Wright, Grimm, Schlitter, Doubront, Turner
There you have it. What do you think?