Chicago Cubs: An Early Offseason and Free-Agency Primer

Jacob KornhauserCorrespondent IIIAugust 24, 2014

Chicago Cubs: An Early Offseason and Free-Agency Primer

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Heading into 2015, there is actually reason for optimism among the Chicago Cubs fanbase. While this year has been similar to others, it has also seen top prospects such as Javier Baez shoot their way through the minors as they get closer and closer to The Show. 

    With a few more prospects due to come up next season, the Cubs are potentially a couple big offseason moves away from being able to compete next year. The progress the prospects have made this season has sped up the rebuild, and some splashes in the winter could accelerate it even more. 

    Here's a look at some moves the Cubs should surely consider making, along with a few top free-agent targets they figure to be in on in a few months.

Re-Sign Chris Coghlan

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Coghlan has been the most pleasant non-prospect surprise for the Cubs this season. Even though he's cooled down lately, the outfielder has been a pretty solid leadoff option as he's hit .269 with six home runs, 23 RBI and five steals in 91 games

    With outfield prospect Albert Almora still likely to spend another year in the minor leagues, it makes sense to keep Coghlan at the big league level. While it's more than likely he will be slid into the fourth outfielder spot soon enough, the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year can add a lot to the locker room. 

    Teams like the Cubs can't underestimate the value of having solid veterans to help nurture their talented young players at the major league level. Coghlan fits that mold and could be very important to the Cubs' future success, even in a limited playing role.

Free-Agent Target: RHP James Shields

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Several reports during spring training indicated the Kansas City Royals were unlikely to sign their top starter to an extension before the offseason, and not much has changed since then. Assuming he does reach free agency this offseason, expect the Cubs to make a strong run at him.

    Even though he's older (32) than some other prime free-agent starters, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe suggests that could actually be a positive. He cites one AL GM who says of Shields: "He’s thrown a lot of innings and pitched a lot of games and there’s always the possibility of breakdown, but the fact you might be able to get him at a shorter term reduces that big risk." 

    Essentially, the Cubs could offer Shields slightly less money and a year or two fewer than may be expected for an arm of his caliber and still get similar results over a three- or four-year period. Adding him and another quality arm to the rotation could be all the Cubs need to get over the hump.

Free-Agent Target: Outfielder Melky Cabrera

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    USA TODAY Sports

    This move is a little more out of the box, but if the Cubs made a run at Melky Cabrera, it would show that the front office truly thinks the team can compete next season. The Cubs have a lot of outfield talent coming up, but adding a proven bat to the lineup could make Chicago potential contenders next season. 

    Since breaking out a couple seasons ago, Cabrera has continued to put up solid numbers (with the exception of an injury-plagued 2013). That includes this season, which looks like this:  

    HRRBISBBAOBPSLG%
    15686.312.365.474

    Surely, the Cubs could use a veteran bat to go along with their untested ones. Whether he proves to be a fixture in the future or makes the team competitive for the next two seasons, bringing him in is a smart move for the front office.

Free-Agent Target: RHP Max Scherzer

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Of all the top-flight pitchers on the open market, Max Scherzer, 30, actually makes the least sense for the Cubs. That doesn't mean signing him would be a bad move, though. Financially, Scherzer would cost the Cubs the most, since he's closer to his prime than any other free-agent pitcher and is coming off a Cy Young campaign just last season. 

    Adding him to the rotation may make the Cubs competitive next season, as long as a few upcoming prospects don't turn out to be disasters. However, the cost may be prohibitive. ESPN.com has the latest on what Scherzer may be seeking: 

    An industry source told ESPN.com's Jayson Stark that the Tigers' offer to Scherzer was for a slightly lower figure than the $25.7 million per year that Justin Verlander received in the extension he signed last spring, but still would have placed Scherzer among the top six highest-paid pitchers in baseball by average annual value of the deal.

    As you can see, the financial commitment involved in potentially adding Scherzer could be more than the Cubs want to take on right now.

Free-Agent Target: LHP Jon Lester

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Of all the big-name free agents set to hit the market this offseason, Jon Lester is by far the most likely to be signed by the Cubs. In fact, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports claims the Cubs are the favorites to land the coveted lefty in the winter.

    There's no question why they're favorites: Everything about it makes sense. Three key reasons exist why the Cubs should and will pursue Lester this offseason. 

    1. He's dealt with president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer in the past. Back when this trio was in Boston, it was pretty successful. All other things being equal, Lester might choose the Cubs over the Yankees because of his ties to the front office. 

    2. They have the money to pull off the move. As evidenced by their pursuit of Phillies lefty Cole Hamels on the waiver wire, the Cubs are willing to pay for front-line pitching right now.

    A contract in the neighborhood of four years and $80 million (he turned down somewhere in the neighborhood of four years, $70 million from the Red Sox in spring training, per Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com) would be well worth it for a team that has the cash and needs an established ace.

    3. He would make the Cubs contenders in 2015. A lot of Cubs fans were looking toward 2016 as the year the team could first compete for the playoffs. However, with the addition of Lester, the Cubs could be competing in 2015. Since pitchers like Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks have stepped up, the Cubs could just need one or two quality arms to put them over the top.

    Here's a look at what the Cubs rotation could look like if Lester is added this offseason:

    1. LHP Jon Lester
    2. RHP Jake Arrieta
    3. RHP Kyle Hendricks
    4. LHP Travis Wood
    5. RHP Jacob Turner

    Other options in the rotation include Felix Doubront, Tsuyoshi Wada and Zac Rosscup.