As many of you recall, I have played the role of Jed Hoyer for the past two SB Nation offseason Simulation projects. In November 2014, I operated with a tight budget. In November 2015, I once again operated with a slightly tighter-than-real budget.
That didn't happen this year. The Cubs entered the simulation with a recommended budget of $189 million, pushing right up against the luxury tax threshold just three years after operating with an Opening Day payroll of $92.7 million.
Needless to say, the additional payroll space made a huge difference, just like it did for the real Cubs last year.
In previous years, I have sought out significant roster revamping as a means of building a contender. Well, it goes without saying that this club is already a contender, even if the front office doesn't make a single move this winter.
I entered the Simulation with three goals. First, ship out some assets that had some value but weren't particularly valuable to the 2017 Cubs. Second, add a couple of big pitchers, particularly in the bullpen so as to avoid paying deadline prices again in 2017. And third, to seek out value wherever it may be found.
With that in mind, here's a look at the moves.
1. Cubs trade 3B Christian Villanueva and RHP Steve Perakslis to Padres for 2B Cory Spangenberg and LHP Jose Torres
Villanueva is likely to be designated for assignment given the Cubs' roster crunch, his 2016 broken ankle, and the fact that he is out of options, so I sought out to get anything for him. I wildly exceeded my own expectations in getting Spangenberg. The young second baseman has been a favorite of mine since the first time I head Jason McLeod talk about him. He suffered a bizarre quad injury that somehow kept him out for almost all of 2016, but in the end, he's a minimum-salaried excellent reserve with a top-ten pedigree and great speed.
Jose Torres was a great cherry on top, a left-handed reliever at Triple-A with a robust mid-90s fastball. He's exactly the kind of guy who tends to find his way to the Majors.
2. Cubs trade 2B Tommy La Stella and RHP Zach Hedges to Angels for LHP Andrew Heaney and RHP Cam Bedrosian
This is easily my favorite deal. I knew that I'd seek to trade La Stella given that I figure the Cubs will trade him in real life. Hedges is a nice pop-up prospect, but he's hardly irreplaceable.
I've loved Heaney since I first started doing my 2012 draft prep in late 2011. He underwent Tommy John surgery in June of 2016, but he still has the makings of a number three starter with a his tasty southpaw arsenal. But it's possible that Bedrosian is the best player dealt in this trade. The former first-round pick enjoyed a wildly successful 2016 on the strength of a high-90s fastball. He did have surgery to remove a blood clot in his arm in September, but by all accounts, he's already throwing fine and could pitch right now.
3. Cubs sign LHP Rich Hill to a 3-year, $72 million contract
Before you guffaw and lose your mind, take all free agent contract from the Simulation with a grain of salt. They tend to be inflated by twenty-to-thirty percent, so this is more like a $54 million deal. I'd be ecstatic if the Cubs made such a deal. Yes, Hill comes with risk, but he's also the only free agent starting pitcher available this winter that looks like he could viably start in a playoff game. As I'm sure Cubs fans recall, Hill looked awfully good in the National League Championship Series. Even if he is only good for 15 or 20 starts a year, the Cubs are in the unique spot to absorb big losses and still be virtually guaranteed of reaching October.
Also important with Hill: his deal was relatively short-term. I'm rather resigned to the fact that 2017 will be Jake Arrieta's final season as a Cub. Given the appalling dearth of starting pitching on this winter's free agent market (the second-best starter is either Ivan Nova or Jeremy Hellickson), teams will be champing at the bit next winter to pay Arrieta $200 million or more on a long-term deal. I doubt that the Cubs will be that team both because of concerns about Arrieta's control and because of their internal desire to keep the books as clean as possible in 2020 and beyond as the likes of Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Javy Baez, Kyle Hendricks, and Anthony Rizzo all come up for big-money deals.
For all of those reasons, Hill was a huge get for me. It also freed me up for the following move.
4. Cubs exercise 1-year, $12 million club option on Jason Hammel and trade Hammel to Angels for SS Nonie Williams and RHP Jaime Barria
Unlike the real Cubs, I wasn't beholden to a handshake agreement not to exercise Hammel's option only to trade him, so naturally I sought out a deal for him. The Angels aren't known for having a great farm system, but both of these pieces were interesting to me. Barria has a solid arm and enjoyed a decent season in full-season ball, but he's rather nondescript in the mold of Daury Torrez or Jonathan Martinez.
But Williams was a real get. He was drafted in the third round of this year's draft and obtained a significantly overslot bonus of $950,000. The extremely athletic Kansas shortstop is rather raw, but the tools are real. His bonus was nearly double that of the highest bonus given out by the Cubs this year, so he's roughly akin to adding back the second-round pick that the Cubs forfeited in order to sign John Lackey.
It's worth noting that, throughout this time period, I was heavily involved in negotiations to sign Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. I have it on good authority that the Cubs love Jansen and will pursue him aggressively, even with a compensation pick attached to him. I mentioned the Simulation inflation above and it was no more pronounced than with Jansen. My top offer? $138 million over six years. It's absurd. It's laughable. And it also wasn't enough as he got $140 million to go to San Francisco. That left me looking backward.
5. Cubs sign LHP Aroldis Chapman to a 6-year, $114 million contract
Surprisingly, the inflation for Chapman was much less pronounced. I think that there's a real chance he signs a 5- or 6-year deal in real life for $16-17 million per year, so I was none too upset with this contract. I much prefer Jansen both because he comes without known baggage and because closers with dominant cutters tend to age well. But nabbing Chapman for this price was a big win for me.
A note about trade discussions: they were plentiful and intriguing. Just about every team inquired on Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber. At least a dozen teams asked about Jorge Soler, Jeimer Candelario, and Victor Caratini, and another half-dozen or so asked about Mark Zagunis. The best deals were plenty interesting and featured some notable young players, but in the end, I opted to hold onto these depth pieces so as to avoid the need to buy in July.
I had some brief discussions with the Mets about Noah Syndergaard, but Baez was a hard requirement for them to get my foot in the door. It might have been worth it, but the Cubs were in a position to be greedy, so I refused.
Also of note: Ian Happ was valued extremely highly by rival general mangers. The most interesting discussion would have involved a player moving just a few miles northward. The White Sox set a firm price for Chris Sale at Happ, Candelario, Dylan Cease, Trevor Clifton, and Donnie Dewees. In retrospect, it was a very fair price and perhaps I should have pulled the trigger. Yet holding a rotation of Lester-Arrieta-Hendricks-Hill-Lackey, my marginal gain in acquiring Sale was tiny and the cost was obviously large. In the end, I tried to focus on a package centered around Soler, Candelario, and Clifton, but Happ was the deal breaker. I'm a huge fan of Happ. In the end, Sale went to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Michael Kopech, a package the Cubs would be foolish to top.
At that point, I bounced around the league looking for a spot to dump an unwanted contract or two in exchange for some tasty prospects. I really wanted to get the Braves to deal me some of their delicious arms in a Matt Kemp trade, but alas, they held firm to their top eight or so. In the end, I did find a taker.
6. Cubs trade C Miguel Montero and $7 million to Tigers for RHP Beau Burrows and RHP Kyle Funkhouser
Earlier in the Simulation, the Tigers had offered Burrows, RHP Matt Manning, RHP Joe Jimenez, and RHP Spencer Turnbull all for Happ. The real Cubs would almost certainly do that deal given that Manning was just selected in the top-ten and Jimenez is an MLB-ready reliever with a rocket arm. But as I said above, I love Happ.
Instead, I made the tough choice to deal Miggy for another favorite of mine in Burrows. Montero's bat recovered nicely at the end of last season and his framing continues to be elite, ranking among the top three in baseball again this year. That said, he didn't have a full-time gig with the Cubs and the chance to nab a couple of big-time arms made the deal an easy call.
This all left me with about $18 million in the budget, so after fishing again for another bad contract, I somewhat surprisingly went back to the free agency well.
7. Cubs sign RHP Mark Melancon to a 4-year, $72 million contract ($17.5 million per year) that includes a fifth-year club option at $13 million with a $2 million buyout
The Melancon deal fits largely into the same bucket as the deal for Hill. The chance to get another huge talent for a time frame shorter than five years was huge. Melancon, like Jansen, should age well as a cutter-first reliever. And with both Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon heading toward free agency, this served as a nice security blanket in the event that either, or both, jumps ship.
8. Cubs sign the following players to minor league deals: OF Chris Coghlan, C Jeff Mathis, SS Erick Aybar, OF Michael Bourn, RHP Joba Chamberlain, LHP Justin Miller, LHP Matt Thornton
Coghlan on a minor league deal was a big win. Mathis is likely the backup catcher. And Thornton retired (in real life) about half an hour after this deal. The world is funny sometimes.
In the end, I was positively ecstatic with the 25-man roster I built and the significant additions made to the farm system. The 25-man (with all pre-arbitration players listed at the minimum, even though many Cubs will get substantially more):
|Dead $||Miguel Montero||$7,000,000|
In addition to the above 25-man roster, I ranked Williams as the ninth-best position player prospect. On the pitching side, I have Heaney fifth (a bit deceptive given his MLB time, but roll with me here), Burrows sixth, Funkhouser eighth, Torres 15th, and Barria 18th. That is a lot of quality arms to add to the system. Of great importance, the presence of Heaney and Montgomery -- who was also heavily peppered with trade requests -- gives the Cubs a couple of internal options for starting spots in 2018 and beyond following Lackey and Arrieta's forays into free agency.
In the end, this team is stacked, the farm got some nice boosts, and I acquired an additional compensation pick for Dexter Fowler leaving in free agency.
So what do you think? Would you like to see this as the 2017 Cubs roster?