The list of free agents the Cubs should pursue this offseason are the players they should pursue and necessarily not the ones they will. Therefore, there are names left off the list for that very reason.
Last month I wrote an article predicting the Cubs’ Opening Day 25-man roster. Purposefully, that list did not include many high-priced, highly coveted free agents. It was more so comprised of players I believed the Cubs could sign to the club.
This is not that list, however. Some of the players on the predicted roster will be on this list and some may not.
There will be arguments as to why the Cubs should pursue these players as well as why they should use caution when doing so. And the idea the Cubs will be able to sign any or all of these players should not be inferred.
Also, the listed players include only those in the MLB or that have a decent amount of MLB experience, and some are arbitration eligible this offseason. It will not include sixth-year, minor-league free agents to build depth as Dale Sveum mentioned in an article on CSNChicago.com.
The proceeding slideshow is simply a list of who the Cubs should target this offseason.
Let us begin. And in no particular order…
There may be better offensive options at catcher this free agency—Gerald Laird, Mike Napoli—but the Cubs need to focus on a player that will both fit their playing-time and financial plans.
Napoli will be demanding of a high-priced, long-term contract this winter—maybe not as big a contract if he were to have become a free agent after last season—and Laird has played himself into a starting position for next year. The same can be said about Kelly Shoppach.
A.J. Pierzynski and Russell Martin are two other options but are surely starting catchers the Cubs need not pursue. Regardless, all of these options will receive offers to be a starter with either their current clubs or elsewhere and seem unlikely to accept a backup role to Welington Castillo.
Availability is solely not what makes Quintero attractive to Chicago. His veteran status and defensive capabilities behind the plate would both benefit the development of Castillo as the Cubs’ long-term starting catcher.
When Aramis Ramirez chose to live the high life at Miller Park, he left a glaring hole on the left side of the Cubs’ infield. The Cubs have tried Ian Stewart, Josh Vitters and Luis Valbuena at the hot corner but have not been met with success.
Signing Jeff Keppinger would not only improve the current situation at third base defensively and offensively, but it would also give the Cubs an ultimate utility player, the likes of which they haven’t seen since Mark DeRosa.
In 2012 with Tampa Bay, Keppinger has posted a line of .328/.371/.444. But what has been most impressive about his performance this season, and what could best help the Cubs offensively, is his ability to hit left-handed pitching.
The Cubs are ranked 28th in the MLB in batting against lefties with a putrid .232 average. Adding Keppinger, who has a line of .377/.403/.526 this season and a career line of .333/.376/.488 vs. left-handed pitchers, would be a huge improvement to the status quo.
Last offseason, relief pitcher Ryan Madson signed a one-year, $8.5 million contract with a team option for 2013 with the Cincinnati Reds. But before throwing a pitch for the Reds, he suffered an elbow injury requiring Tommy John surgery.
For that reason, and the performance of their bullpen without him, NBCSports.com writer Matthew Pouliot believes that “Cincinnati figures to buy out its half of his $11 million mutual option, sending him back into free agency.”
Before signing a one-year deal with Cincinnati, Madson was a standout reliever in his last two seasons with Philadelphia. In 2011 he recorded a career-high 32 saves out of 34 save opportunities and a 13-inning scoreless streak.
Coming off Tommy John surgery, Madson will want to prove he still has the stuff to be a top-flight closer while also looking for a landing spot where his rehabilitation will not be rushed.
Adding Madson to the disheveled Cubs bullpen would be a smart move and for on-field performance and financial reasons.
Locking up the club’s potential closer for four to five years with an incentive-based contract would compensate Madson if he performs as he and the club wish, all the while protecting the club if Madson suffers any setbacks or other injuries related to his TJ surgery or performs poorly.
Think of this signing as a low-risk, high-reward investment.
One of the surprises of the season is the performance of St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Kyle Lohse.
Over the past two seasons, Lohse has been as quality of a starter if there ever was one. But prior to 2011, he had only three winning seasons out of 10. That sort of average may suffice in batting, but for pitching, any average of .333 is not good.
Will that be on the minds of teams interested in his services? As history has shown, probably not.
Teams will look at his 2012 stats and fall victim to a mania that plagued the Yankees in 2004 when they signed Carl Pavano to a four-year, $40 million contract.
It should not be surprising if Kyle Lohse receives a contract one-and-a-half times the amount of money as Pavano’s with an extra year. He is, after all, a client of Scott Boras.
The Cubs should participate in the bidding up until it reaches around the $6 to 7 million dollar-per-year range, for three years and maybe a fourth-year club option. Once the bidding reaches that threshold, the Cubs should remove themselves from consideration and move on to other options.
And this offseason, there should be plenty of other options.
Before suffering a skull fracture and undergoing brain surgery after a line drive off the bat of Erick Aybar that sidelined him for the season, Brandon McCarthy was setting himself up for a decent payday this offseason. And so far, little has changed.
He, along with Zack Greinke, will be one of the most pursued free agent pitchers this winter.
The most recent head injury aside, McCarthy has had two other shoulder strain injuries this season that caused him to be placed on the disabled list on both occasions. Despite this, McCarthy is viewed as a hot commodity this offseason.
If his contract demands or offers do not become too inflated, the Cubs should look at McCarthy to fill one of the three voids in the starting rotation.
Joe Blanton should be the most attractive candidate for the Cubs to add to their starting rotation.
While he is not a front-line pitcher, he would fit well with the Cubs as the No. 3 or No. 4 starter. When other teams are focusing on the likes of Zack Greinke, Kyle Lohse and Ryan Dempster, the Cubs should be able to scoop up the veteran righty for a moderate price.
The biggest area of concern for the Cubs is their bullpen; they had fewer fans pass through the Wrigley Field turnstiles in 2012 than pitchers in the pen. And unless the Cubs decide to bring in help via free agency, fans can expect the same outcome in 2013.
Depending on what the Twins decide to do this offseason, Capps could become another option in the deep pool of free-agent relief pitchers.
In recent years, the Reds have doled out big contracts to Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, and a three-year, $16.5 million contract to Sean Marshall.
The Reds’ financial position could benefit the Cubs' pursuit to improve their pitching in 2013. Cincinnati has only 11 players under contract for the 2013 season, totaling roughly $71 million.
With the likes of Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Homer Bailey all arbitration eligible, the Reds’ diminutive finances and necessity to fill the lineup placed elsewhere could open the door for Chicago to steal away the imposing reliever from its divisional rivals.
As mentioned earlier, Latos is arbitration eligible this offseason. Having made only $550K this season, he is in line for a big bump in salary—a raise he will be looking for and one the Reds may not be able to afford.
If Latos happens to land on the free agent market, the Cubs should do all they can to bring the 24-year-old to the North Side. A combination of Jeff Samardzija and Latos would be a formidable starting-pitching duo for the Cubs for years to come.
The Cubs, like most MLB teams, need a quality lefty to bring out of the bullpen. Jeremy Affeldt could be the answer the Cubs are looking for.
In 2012 Affeldt was the 6th ranked lefty reliever in the MLB in ERA and opponent OPS, 8th in WHIP and opp. BA, 7th in strikeouts, 2nd in GB\FB ratio.
All of this will make him an attractive option to many teams, but a pitcher of his caliber – and a lefty no less – would be a great addition to the Chicago Cubs.
What could be detrimental to the Cubs’ plans is the fact that there are no superstar quality free agents this offseason.
Instead of being able to focus on acquiring quality players and pitchers at their real market value, those players and pitchers will receive contracts valued well above their true player worth. This contract inflation will cause teams to spend more on less—in both quantity and quality—than in previous offseasons.
You may be asking yourself why B.J. Upton was excluded from this list. It is very simple, really.
One reservation I have about signing B.J. Upton is due to Carl Crawford. It seems anytime the Rays let a player go, whether through free agency or trade, they always come out looking as the smarter of the two organizations involved in the transaction.
But the biggest reason why he was left off the list is because of the presumptive free agency of Jacoby Ellsbury after next season.
If things keep going as they are in Boston and he decides to reject arbitration or decline a long-term contract with the Sox, he would therefore become a free agent, opening up the possibility to a re-unification in Chicago with the men who drafted him.
In order for that to occur, the Cubs would have to keep the CF slot void of another player with a sizable contract.