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A helpful list of free agents the Cubs can actually afford

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This is not the list you had hoped to see.

Should the Cubs reunite with Billy Hamilton?
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The other day I wrote 1,000 words about what the Cubs appear to be doing this offseason.

Among those words were:

It became clear to me then that the Cubs weren’t going to sign anyone of any significance this offseason, certainly no one for more than $1 million or so.

Since the Cubs’ unstated “salary cap” for any individual player new to the team appears to be $1 million — even though the ballclub is well under the first luxury tax level based on the players they already have under contract — here are some free agents they could probably sign for around that amount for 2021.

Catchers

Austin Romine: He’s 32 and had some decent years for the Yankees, including actually appearing in three postseason games. He didn’t hit well for the Tigers in 2020 (.238/.259/.323 in 135 PA), so could probably be signed for around $1 million. Ranks 47th of 62 catchers in pitch framing, per Statcast.

Josh Phegley: Hit pretty well for the Athletics in 2019 (.239/.282/.411, 12 home runs), then went 1-for-16 for the Cubs in 2020. Has the advantage of already knowing his way around Wrigley Field.

Infielders

Jonathan Villar: Coming off a .274/.339/.453, 24 HR, 40 SB, 3.9 bWAR season with the Orioles in 2019, he signed an $8 million deal with the Marlins and ... was pretty poor with both Miami and the Blue Jays, where he was traded at the August 31 deadline. He hit just .232/.301/.292 in 207 PA. No one’s breaking down his door to sign him, he could probably be had for around $1 million.

Jason Kipnis: Played 2020 for the minimum. His numbers (.237/.341/.404) weren’t too far off his career averages. Also knows his way around the Cubs clubhouse and Wrigley Field.

Mike Freeman: I know, I know. I used to bash him when he was a Cub. He was actually good for Cleveland in 2019 (.277/.362/.390, four HR in 75 games) before being not so good in 2020 (9-for-38, 11 strikeouts).

Eric Sogard: The Cubs were reportedly interested in Sogard last offseason, when he was coming off a .290/.353/.457, 13 HR season combined between the Blue Jays and Rays. He wasn’t nearly as good in 2020 (.209/.281/.278 in 143 PA). Remember, we’re not necessarily saying these players have to be good, only affordable.

Outfielders

Billy Hamilton: Now here’s a player who could actually be useful, especially if rosters are expanded to 28 again. He really can’t hit anymore — he went 4-for-32 combined between the Mets and Cubs in 2020 — but he can still play defense and steal bases. And here’s another player who already knows the way to Wrigley! He made $1 million (before pro-ration) in 2020, so maybe the Cubs could have him for even less!

Jon Jay: The “good clubhouse guy” is now 36 and went just 8-for-50 for the Diamondbacks in 2020. Like several others on this list, though, he’s familiar with the ballpark and probably would play for cheap!

Starting pitchers

Zack Godley: Godley was sent to the Diamondbacks by the Cubs in 2014 in the deal that brought Miguel Montero to Chicago. That one worked out OK, I’d say. Godley hasn’t been very good the last couple of years, but remember, we are more concerned with affordability here.

Carlos Rodon: Previously mentioned here.

Relief pitchers

Steve Cishek: Why not? He had two good years for the Cubs, though not so good for the 2020 White Sox (though his peripherals were in line with his career norms). Certainly must know his way around Chicago after three years.

Oliver Drake: Another guy who had a good year in 2019 (3.21 ERA, 0.982 WHIP, 70 strikeouts in 56 innings, 1.2 bWAR), not so much in 2020, though he did pitch for the Rays in the division series. Holds the MLB record for most teams played for in one season (2018, five: Brewers, Indians, Angels, Blue Jays, Twins).

T.J. McFarland: He’s an extreme ground-ball pitcher. Per this Athletics Nation article, he generated ground balls at a 63 percent rate (through 2019), “the third-highest mark in the entire majors since he arrived in 2013 (min. 250 innings), behind only Zach Britton and Brad Ziegler.” Heck, this would be a good signing even if we weren’t trying to be cheap here. The low cost would be a bonus. Win-win!

Hector Rondon: Another reunion possibility, Hector didn’t have a very good year in 2020 (7.65 ERA, 1.800 WHIP in 23 games for the Diamondbacks). He’s still throwing 95+, per Fangraphs.

A lot of this article is, as you might have noticed, sarcasm. The Cubs should be able to afford more than $1 million per signing, but they have apparently set that (or something near it) as a de facto cap. Some of these suggestions are lighthearted, but there are a few on the list who might actually be able to help the 2021 Cubs — and be inexpensive, too.

Get it done, Jed.