The Cubs' 2013-2014 offseason got off to a surprising start when the team announced that manager Dale Sveum would not return to the Cubs next season. It's hard to say that Sveum wasn't qualified for the job, or a great coach, but the results on the field warranted a change in direction. As reported by the Chicago Tribune's Mark Gonzales, Sveum was quickly picked up by the Royals and will serve as infield instructor and likely a base coach.
The Cubs' brass are at an interesting point. The prospects in the minors took positive strides towards Chicago while the team's young core regressed. Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jeff Samardzija looked great at times, but by and large they struggled through the entire season.
While plenty of players were given opportunities at cracking the roster, the team only saw a five-game improvement in its record from 2012 to 2013.
Will the team be active on the free agent market? Or will we continue to see what we're working with and make short-term plugs like the addition of David DeJesus prior to the 2012 season.
With potential holes at catcher, the outfield and bullpen, the Cubs have a reason to be somewhat active early through the Winter Meetings. Plus, the Cubs could look to improve at second base or rely on internal options.
The Cubs also face the question of broaching Jeff Samardzija about an extension, something that hasn't exactly gone well in times past. The Cubs would be making a big commitment to Samardzija and not just in terms of money. Very few pitchers have lived up to expectations for the Cubs, so forgive me if I'm hesitant to shell out the dough.
Let's break this down and see what the Cubs are working with this offseason.
The Cubs have several arbitration eligibles this year, recently acquired players through trades and waivers and players looking to compete for a regular job while prospects hone their skills.
- Daniel Bard, RHP—Former Red Sox farmhand picked up on waivers. Adds bullpen depth with upside.
- Darwin Barney, 2B—Hit a disappointing .208 with seven home runs, but a great fielder. Career .246 hitter and will be 28 in November. Made just over 500K in 2012.
- Darnell McDonald, OF—Hit .302 in 53 at-bats with the Cubs but just .236 in 92 games in Iowa. He's organizational depth most likely.
- Donnie Murphy, IF—Showed decent power in his brief stint and may be given a shot if the infield doesn't shape itself up.
- James Russell, LHP—Reliable left-hander out of the 'pen, could receive a short-term deal. Second year in a row with a sub-4.00 ERA and over 70 appearances. He avoided arbitration last year and signed a $1.075 million deal.
- Jeff Samardzija, RHP—The Cubs would like to work out a deal with Samardzija but it will cost them. He is not a free agent until after the 2015 season so there is time, but the longer they wait the closer he gets to an even bigger pay day.
- Nate Schierholtz, OF—Schierholtz was a great addition for the Cubs in 2013, even drawing trade interest around the deadline. Depending on the price he may be back in blue, but the Cubs have young options especially if they intend to explore the free agent market.
- Pedro Strop - RHP—Acquired in the Scott Feldman trade with Jake Arrieta, Strop is the early front-runner for the closer position in 2014 and posted a 2.83 ERA in 37 Cubs appearances.
- Luis Valbuena, 3B—Valbuena battled through injuries this season and only hit .218 when healthy in 108 games. He hasn't really ever broken out since replacing Ian Stewart when he was injured in 2012. He's virtually been the same player in 198 games with the Cubs between 2012-2013.
- Travis Wood, LHP—Wood posted a 3.11 ERA in 200 well-fought innings and looked outstanding in many of his starts. He certainly has earned a spot in the Cubs rotation and will be rewarded for it. He was acquired in the Sean Marshall trade to the Reds.
The Cubs payroll isn't likely to go down too much with the arbitration eligible players and possible free agents, not to mention the $17-plus million owed to Alfonso Soriano. There is and will be less certainty in the Cubs payroll when there are more arbitration eligible and younger players on the roster.
The potential contract for the next season fluctuates as the players perform throughout the year, and with trades and midseason additions it is hard to control. Fortunately, the team is in striking distance with some of its prospects and young players hopefully emerging from their season-long slumps.
- Scott Baker, RHP - Scott Baker was a project this year working his way back from injury, making only three starts in 2013. He posted a 3.60 ERA and will likely sign a team-friendly deal, especially if given a lock on one of the rotation spots. A 15-game winner in 2009, Baker is certainly a great value buy for the Cubs.
- Kevin Gregg, RHP - Gregg posted 32 saves this season and was a great midseason addition for the Cubs. Given his late season media tirade, and Strop waiting in the wings, the Cubs may let him walk. However, the Cubs don't want to fall into the problem they had in 2012 and Gregg was solid for much of the season.
- Matt Guerrier, RHP - Acquired by the Cubs for Carlos Marmol, he posted a 2.13 ERA in 15 games
- Dioner Navarro, C - Navarro had an excellent year with the Cubs, posting a .300 average and 13 home runs in 89 games. He made $1.75 million last year and is likely seeking a short-term deal. The Cubs have Wellington Castillo, 26, who hit .274 with eight home runs and is 26.
- Ryan Sweeney, OF - Sweeney looked really good before getting hurt and missing two months of the season. There is a good chance he will be given an opportunity in the outfield in 2014.
Expect the Cubs to try and bring back the majority of these players assuming the prices aren't too high.
- Jeff Samardzija
- Travis Wood
- Edwin Jackson
- Jake Arrieta
- C - Wellington Castillo/__________
- 1B - Anthony Rizzo
- 2B - Darwin Barney*
- 3B - __________
- SS - Starlin Castro
- LF - __________
- CF - Junior Lake
- RF -__________
The Cubs rotation is more or less set, but don't be surprised if the Cubs look to add a starter and make Jake Arrieta compete for the fifth spot. Arrieta was 4-2 in nine starts with a 3.66 ERA after being acquired from the Orioles.
Chris Rusin performed well in 13 starts with the Cubs, posting a 3.93 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. The soon-to-be 27-year-old lefty was 8-7 with a 3.35 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in Triple-A before his call up. His minor league numbers are pretty consistent, so there's a good chance he will be given a chance to earn a rotation spot. There are few options who were given chances in 2013 but little competition overall, unless you include Brooks Raley and Justin Grimm. Hopefully Arodys Vizcaino is healthy and ready to compete for a rotation spot.
It's possible prospect Kyle Henricks, acquired by the Cubs in the Ryan Dempster trade in 2012, could be an early candidate to fill in if he performs as well as he did in 2013.
Wellington Castillo is capable and has been on the organization's radar for several years. If the Cubs don't choose to re-sign Dioner Navarro, the position will be Castillo's to lose. The Cubs have very few options in terms of depth, so they may look to retain Navarro if the price isn't too steep.
Darwin Barney is certainly on the hot seat this offseason, especially with several infield prospects nearing the majors. He is a superb fielder but is definitely not the long-term option for the Cubs. When we take a look at possible free agents we'll discuss the options available on the market.
The minor league options are still a year away but could be up sooner if they continue their domination of the minor leagues. Shortstop Javier Baez could force the issue and move Starlin Castro over to second base, maybe third base, but the Cubs have options coming up the ladder there too.
Ryan Sweeney is certainly a candidate to fill in at right field, but beyond that, there are few internal options who could respectfully fill the position. Several outfield prospects are a few years off and recently converted outfielder Josh Vitters needs to perform and stay healthy in order to be seriously considered.
The Cubs will need to rely on the free agent market to help insulate their lineup and provide support for Anthony Rizzo and Castro, as well as the surprise of 2013 Junior Lake.
Could you imagine?!
Seriously. What if the Cubs land Joe Girardi, then lure Robinson Cano with an Alfonso Soriano-esque deal? The infield depth in the organization is strong, but as the old saying goes, if you play well you'll find your way into the lineup.
Cano has every reason to stay in New York. He will build a legacy to the likes of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. He'll join a long list of prized prospects who emerged and solidified themselves with All-Star years, playoff appearances and World Series titles. Whether we like it or not, the Yankees are always the team to beat and a driving force in the playoffs.
However, entering the free agent market is one of the most interesting and exciting times in a career for a young superstar. You hear what other teams think of you and allow the market price to set itself. Someone like Cano would have the pick of any number of cities, setting him out on a new path after nine seasons with the Bombers.
Joining an organization like the Cubs, given their position and challenges to win a World Series, could certainly draw in the infielder, who could be looking at an eight- to 10-year deal if he plays his cards right, not to mention that if that means sticking with your manager, Joe Girardi. He may be seeking a shorter-term deal if the annual dollars are better.
Now that we got that out of the way, let's look at some other options:
- Dioner Navarro—He and Wellington Castillo did tremendous work behind the plate and I'm sure the Cubs would love to bring him back unless he pursues a starting job elsewhere.
- Kelly Shoppach—Had a pretty rough 2013 but could be brought in on a minor league deal and is a serviceable back up.
- Brayan Pena—Played in 71 games and performed well when called upon. A very good situation if added.
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia—Red Sox catcher coming off the best year of his career.
- Omar Infante—Had a great 2013 campaign and would be a change in direction for the Cubs, but a good option nonetheless.
- Nick Punto—He would be a stopgap measure.
- Kelly Johnson—Not a great year but versatile and serviceable.
- Robinson Cano—See above.
- Casey McGehee—Put up great numbers in Japan and could be seeking another MLB opportunity.
- Jerry Hairston Jr.—An uncharacteristically bad year, but would be a stopgap for some of the minor league options coming up.
- Jeff Baker—Former Cub would be welcome addition if the Cubs were to re-sign him.
- David Murphy—A buy-low candidate who could play into a midseason trade, a trend with which the Cubs appear to be content.
- Delmon Young—A decent year with the Phillies and Rays, but playing in the postseason.
- Curtis Granderson—A long shot who would certainly cost the Cubs, he would be an interesting candidate and is a hometown hero.
- Shin-Soo Choo—One of the prized free agents available and will certainly command big bucks. He would fit nicely with the Cubs and their long-term goals.
- Jeff Francoeur—Not the best option but an inexpensive one.
- Gavin Floyd—Only appeared in five games so may come at a reduced price.
- Jeff Francis—Was pretty bad with the Rockies but would be worth a flier if he's willing to take a spring invite.
- Dan Haren—One-year deal most likely but the Cubs had interest in him earlier so it's possible.
- Chien-Ming Wang—Not good in 2013 but would likely come on the cheap.
- Roy Halladay—Veteran arm with a chance to be a starter and mold some younger players. It would be a season-long addition and he could be traded to a contender midseason if he's healthy.
- Josh Johnson—See Roy Halladay
- Chad Gaudin—Gaudin could be in the rotation and bullpen and looked great with the Giants.
- Grant Balfour—38 saves this year. He is a great pitcher who will only be pulled away if the money is right.
- Kevin Gregg—Gregg was a rock for the Cubs but may seek a new opportunity if they don't guarantee the closer spot to him.
- Joaquin Benoit—24 saves. 2.59 ERA. Would be a solid option for the Cubs and likely keep Strop in the setup role.
- Ryan Madson—Hasn't pitched since 2011 but could be a nice reliever if healthy.
The Cubs are not expected to trade many pieces this offseason; however, Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija would certainly net a package of prospects if put on the market.
It seems, though, as if the Cubs are in a building mode and not necessarily looking to make a blockbuster deal. The right offer could always present itself, but for now the Cubs seem pretty content with the direction and current makeup.
That could change come the Winter Meetings or when players start actually signing and plans change, but for now, expect the Cubs trade market to be relatively quiet.