Power Ranking Chicago Cubs' Biggest Needs Heading into Free Agency
The Cubs will do some much-needed fine-tuning this offseason, making upgrades in the outfield and possibly around the infield. The bullpen will need some support after barely hanging on in 2013 and the Cubs will need a strong bench.
Chicago will be in the market for impact bats and arms, but it would not make sense for the team to unload a boatload of prospects for an ace like David Price. The Cubs did it before with Matt Garza, and while the team does not necessarily miss any of them yet, former Cubs arm Chris Archer is one of the reasons the Rays may be willing to unload Price at this time.
So, we ought to be careful.
The Cubs need depth if they are content with letting the team develop into 2014. There are grumblings the team will look to make a big move, but remember when the Cubs were possibly linked to Prince Fielder? Yeah, that went nowhere.
Let's explore the teams needs going into this offseason and where they may go following the postseason.
First and Foremost: Manager
Most recent list of Cubs candidates:
- Dave Martinez, Tamba Bay Rays Bench Coach
- Rick Renteria, San Diego Padres Bench Coach
- AJ Hinch, Padres special assistant and former Diamondbacks manager
- Manny Acta, former Nationals and Indians manager
Team president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are meeting with candidates over the next few weeks and hope to have a decision in place by the general managers meetings next month.
Dave Martinez is an interesting candidate coming from Joe Maddon's staff who has worked with the team in player development and been a part of the team's postseason runs. Maddon, a former coach under Angels manager Mike Scioscia, is one of the top coaches in baseball and Martinez as manager would be a steal for the Cubs.
The 49-year-old has been on the managerial radar for a few years now.
Renteria has been a coach with the Padres for nearly 15 years, having worked his way up the organizational ladder. He has been with the major league coaching staff since 2008. He also managed the 2013 Mexico national team in the WBC.
Acta has two managerial gigs under his belt and is looking to get back to it. He was not all that successful in his time, but both teams have improved dramatically since he left.
Who do you want to see become Cubs manager?
5. Infield Depth
Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are the only guarantees for spots in the infield in 2014. Second baseman Darwin Barney struggled mightily in 2013 and the team may look to go in a different direction.
The soon-to-be 28-year-old could see his playing time reduced if third base is filled by Mike Olt out of the gate. He also is at risk of losing playing time if Javier Baez or Kris Bryant (could you imagine?) reach the majors in 2014.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves—Barney's fielding is really what makes this a difficult decision, as the Cubs could easily find a veteran replacement if they are not satisfied with Barney or ready for the young prospects to take over in Chicago.
Third base has been filled by Luis Valbuena for two seasons and a slew of other replacements while he was injured. Some certainty would likely help the Cubs at the big league level and take some pressure off players in the minors who are receiving more attention than in years past.
Mike Olt is the most intriguing option, but he is expected to begin the season in Triple-A after a disappointing 2013. The free-agent options are not nearly as juicy as in years past.
4. Outfield Depth
The Cubs outfield is far from set and there is a real opportunity for players young and old to land a starting job. If the Cubs decide to spend big on a impact bat, all bets are off. I'm working off the assumption the Cubs are evaluating their prospects and the possiblity of competing next year, in two years, or in five years.
If the front office thinks they are five years from really competing, does it make sense to sign player X for five years and $100 million? The Cubs are looking to be competitive for years to come, and throwing money at the problem clearly wasn't the answer.
Ryan Sweeney looks like he will compete for a starting job, but he may share time with Nate Schierholtz if he is brought back or someone like him. That player could be David Murphy, who is coming off a poor 2013, but is a lifetime .275 hitter.
He could seek a David DeJesus-type deal in the two-year range worth four to $5 million annually.
In terms of impact bats, Shin Soo-Choo certainly comes to mind, but the 31-year-old is going to be one of the most sought after bats.
The Cubs are looking at adding two bats to the outfield, as Sweeney is ideally a reserve outfielder getting 300 to 400 at-bats.
3. Starting Pitching
The Cubs' starting rotation would benefit from an anchor at the top, taking some pressure off of Jeff Samardzija and giving the Cubs someone that they can truly build around.
I feel compelled to address the elephant in the room, that being Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka, 24, is going to be the top pitcher on the free-agent market after going 20-0 with 1.23 ERA last season. The Cubs have gotten their feet wet in the Japanese markets before, but adding Tanaka would really be a shock to the system.
For one, Tanaka's posting will be anywhere between $40-60 million. Then he will look to sign a five- to six-year deal worth a total of $70-80 million. Is Tanaka worth $20 million annually for a team who may not be in contention for four or five years?
The Cubs will indeed be in the market for a starter, someone they can slot behind Samardzija, Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood, leaving a mix of Jake Arrieta and Chris Rusin to fight it out for the fifth spot.
The veteran arms out there looking for new starts would seem to fit nicely. Scott Baker, of course, would be welcomed back at a reduced price. Pitchers like Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson could also be had on team-friendly deals.
A move like this would be a cue that the Cubs believe they have arms near major league ready. That would seem more economical than making a $100 million-plus push for a seemingly unknown pitcher. However, taking a chance on Tanaka, like any Japanese pitcher, is a high-risk, high-reward move that could pay huge dividends.
Do the Cubs have the payroll to sign Tanaka and lock up Samardzija?
It's hard to imagine Jarrod Saltalamacchia jumping ship after the year he had, but the free-agent catcher is going to be one of the more sought-after bats this offseason. A switch-hitter, Saltalamacchia is coming off his best statistical season in five years.
While we saw his power decrease, his average was up and he set a career high with 40 doubles.
The Cubs are expected to try and work out a deal with Dioner Navarro; however, Navarro has given every indication he will seek a starting gig elsewhere.
Wellington Castillo held his own behind the plate and was very good defensively, but the Cubs will look to make a big move, and filling the catcher spot with a prized prospect like Saltalamacchia would go a long way.
1. Relief Pitching
The Cubs appear willing to give Pedro Strop an opportunity to close. Strop pitched well after being acquired for Scott Feldman, and the Cubs gave him more opportunities to close as the season came to an end.
Kevin Gregg may have priced himself out of the Cubs' range this season, and the team nearly dropped him for his outburst in the final week. Still, he was the best pitcher out of the Cubs bullpen this year and was a midseason acquisition.
Blake Parker and James Russell are solid arms, but they will need more support. That support is not in the minor league system, even if you like Rafael Dolis.
If the Cubs do decide to spend on a closer, Joaquin Benoit would be a great addition from the Tigers. He posted a 2.01 ERA in 2013 and could be the team's closer or middle relief pitcher. He gives the Cubs added insurance in the event Pedro Strop is not the team's closer.
Either way, expect the Cubs to make a few additions here.