Set for another season that is likely to produce more than 90 losses for North Siders, Cubs management is sticking to the plan they've had from the beginning.
Until they feel that they can contend for divisions, which realistically won't be until at least 2015, they aren't going to spend a lot of money on big-name free agents.
That being said, the team still plans to make moves this offseason that will affect the team going forward. In fact, the philosophy the last couple of seasons has been to sign low-risk players to one-year contracts in hopes of flipping those players for prospects at the trade deadline. This season, one year closer to fielding a winning team, the team might make those low-risk signings in hopes of turning them into multi-year contracts as opposed to shipping the players off around the league.
In the outfield, the team is unlikely to make any major splash. The top two free agents in the outfield, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, are far too expensive for the team, although the Cubs have expressed interest in both.
A more likely target would be Chris Young. The 30-year old hit just .200 last year in 35 at-bats, but the fact that he's a veteran could be a key factor in this decision.
According to Jim Bowden of ESPN (subscription required), Young can be expected to receive a one-year contract for about $5 million. If nothing else, Young provides a fill-in in the outfield, while players like Jorge Soler and Albert Almora develop in the minor leagues.
Since the infield is mostly set both on the major league roster and in the minor leagues, it's highly unlikely that the team will try to add infielders to the current roster. Names such as Valbuena, Olt, Castro, Barney, and Rizzo are set to make an impact on the major league level. Additionally, guys like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant are developing in the minors as they progress toward the major league squad.
Behind the dish, it is possible that the Cubs will sign former Athletic Kurt Suzuki to back up Wellington Castillo. Last year's backup, Dioner Navarro played so well that he can find a job somewhere outside of Chicago, and the Cubs have no minor league options to back up Castillo. Suzuki hasn't played much in the majors the past two seasons but is a cheap option to back up Castillo, who should be close to an everyday catcher in 2014.
Where the Cubs really need help is starting pitching.
That's why most of their efforts should be focused on the rotation this offseason. With rotation spots likely already held by Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jake Arrieta, the team only needs one arm to fill a spot; however, that doesn't mean that they will only sign one starting pitcher, as management loves to have competition among its starters.
Low-risk, high-reward candidates include Phil Hughes and Josh Johnson.
Hughes, the former Yankee, is still only 27 years old and needs desperately to revive his career after tallying only four wins last season. He's exactly the type of player on which Cubs brass likes to take a chance on. His former team has given up on him, and he has a chance to start over. Likely only costing $7 million to $8 million for one season, Hughes would be a good fit.
Johnson, who is just 29 years old, used to be an ace for the Marlins before he ran into some arm issues. Very similar to Hughes, Johnson could be had for around $8 million and have a chance to revive his career in Chicago.
A medium-risk, medium-reward candidate could be Matt Garza. That name sounds familiar in Wrigleyville. The former Cub is a very solid No. 2 starter and could definitely bolster the major league rotation. One problem is the money involved. Garza is expected to fetch around $60 million over the course of four years, and Cubs higher-ups might decide that's too rich for their blood.
High-risk, high-reward candidates include Masahiro Tanaka and Ubaldo Jimenez.
Tanaka, the latest pitching phenom to come out of Japan, is just 25 years old and reportedly has electric stuff. While most scouts tab him as a very good No. 2 starter, many also believe that he has the potential to be an ace. An opportunity to land a pitcher like that doesn't come every day, and that's why the Cubs are reportedly interested in Tanaka; however, the posting fee of anywhere between $75 million to $85 million and an additional $75 over five years that Tanaka is expected to receive is likely too much for a front office still trying save money when they should be contending.
Jimenez presents the larger risk for the franchise. The fact that he's just 29 years old and has shown in multiple seasons that he has ace-quality stuff is enticing.
According to Bowden (subscription required), however, Jimenez figures to make about $42 million over three years, which, as the Cubs saw with Edwin Jackson last season, is a lot of money to give to an inconsistent starter.
Some relievers on the Cubs' radar include Chris Perez, Jesse Crain, J.P. Howell and Jose Veras, according to multiple media reports.
A glaring area of need, the Cubs will hope to add what the organization calls "power arms." The team hopes that Pedro Strop can be their closer of the future, so filling in the roster with solid seventh and eighth inning guys is a must.
While they won't be flashy and will probably fly under the radar, the moves that the Cubs make now, for the first time in several years, will impact the team they hope to have competing in the next two or three years.
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