Chicago Cubs: Looming Offseason Decisions, Part V (External Options)
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This is the final part of a series of articles outlining the decisions that the Cubs will need to make this offseason. You can read part four by following this link.
Jim Hendry has already said that he's more concerned about making "two or three really good moves" than relying on the splash factor of one move. So, for those of you looking at the big name free agents with large price tags, or even a potential trade for Adrian Gonzalez, don't get your hopes up too high.
Instead, look for the Cubs to get guys that fit the team and their budget. In all likelihood, one of those moves will be acquiring a first baseman and the other one or two will be adding some pitching, either in the rotation, the bullpen, or both.
At first base, the North Siders will be looking for someone who exhibits power from the left side and is good enough with the glove to lessen the impact of Aramis Ramirez's fading defensive abilities and Starlin Castro's growing pains.
Although one of the best left-handed sluggers over the past decade, Adam Dunn's fairly high asking price, his defensive shortcomings, his type A status, and the almost certainty that the Nationals will offer arbitration, the overall cost in dollars, defense, and draft picks is just too high for serious consideration. I'm sure the team will do (or has already done) their due diligence on the off chance that he isn't offered arbitration and his price tag comes down, but they'll be concentrating elsewhere.
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Adam LaRoche, Lyle Overbay and Carlos Pena are the most likely free agent targets, each with some pop from the left side and at least an above average glove. Of course, each player has more than their share of strikeouts, but Overbay and Pena draw some walks to offset that.
Depending on his asking price, Aubrey Huff should also get a look, although he isn't as known for his defense as the prior trio and is the eldest among the four (by one month over Overbay). I'm sure the Cubs would love to have a season of 35 doubles, 26 home runs, 83 walks, and only 91 strikeouts from their first baseman, but the Giants will probably make a very good push to keep him.
On the trade market, there's absolutely no reason to not inquire on what collection of players it might take to land Adrian Gonzalez. With his Gold-Glove-caliber defense, 30 to 40 home run power, high walk totals, and his $6.2 million 2011 salary, he's too great of a bargain to not look into. But it's the cost in players in return, which teams like the Red Sox might drive up, that makes the proposition less likely.
Another player the Cubs have been linked to recently is the Rangers' Chris Davis, a young left-handed hitter with great power, experience playing both corner infield positions, and some glaring plate discipline issues. It's certainly an intriguing possibility, reuniting hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo with one of his former students, and leaving the option open to move Ramirez to first, should the need arise. Although there has been little mention of this trade since the story broke, I could see it happening.
If the Yankees decide to sign another outfielder (Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth, perhaps), then don't be surprised if the Cubs become linked to Nick Swisher, son of former Cubs catcher Steve Swisher. Although he had a significant dip in walks last season, Nick had always drawn a ton of walks and has continued to hit around 30 doubles and 30 home runs each season.
If the Cubs are instead looking for someone to take a flyer on to compete with (or in a reserve role behind) Tyler Colvin at first base, then you might see names like Hank Blalock, Eric Chavez, Brad Hawpe, Eric Hinske, Mike Jacobs, or non-tender candidates Willy Aybar, Dan Johnson, and Casey Kotchman bandied about.
There are a number of ways that they could go with starting pitchers, but I fully expect the Cubs to look into both Jon Garland and Javier Vazquez. I also wouldn't be surprised to see them take a chance on one of Erik Bedard, Jeremy Bonderman, Jeff Francis, Kevin Millwood, Brad Penny, Jarrod Washburn, Brandon Webb, Chris Young, or (if he's non-tendered) Chien-Ming Wang.
Of that bunch, I find Garland to be far and away the most likely to end up with the Cubs. That's not to say that he will or that the others won't, but he has put together a pretty nice resume since being traded from the Cubs to the White Sox, including eight solid years with the South Siders and a very nice season with the Padres in 2010. Also, he might not demand quite so much money as the other options, making the potential negotiations go smoother and quicker.
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As far as potential trade targets go, they may talk with the Rays about the availability of Wade Davis, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, and James Shields, but your guess is as good as mine about starting pitchers they might trade for.
To bolster the bullpen, I'm sure the team would be interested in re-signing Kerry Wood, but he would need to be willing to take a pay cut off of his $10.5 million salary in 2010. Other targets could include Grant Balfour, Chad Durbin, Frank Francisco, Jason Frasor, J.J. Putz, Jon Rauch, or Takashi Saito, depending upon their demands and whether or not some of them (Balfour or Francisco) are offered arbitration.
The only other free agent that I could see the Cubs signing is not a pitcher or first baseman, but a second baseman. Although such a move is pure speculation on my part, I believe that Orlando Hudson would be a great addition.
Hudson plays great defense, can hit well for a second baseman, provides a little bit of speed on the basepaths, and may have a somewhat modest salary seeing as he's never earned more than $6.25 million in a season. Such a move obviously means that one or both of Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt would be sent on their way, but the signing of a player like Hudson could be a move that makes the Cubs' 2011 playoff chances seem like less of a long shot.
Finally, there is one last way that the Cubs might add a player. With one spot open on their 40-man roster and the Rule Five Draft approaching, there is the possibility that the team could take a chance on someone left unprotected in another organization. Since I expect the North Siders to sign at least one free agent, I would be surprised to see them fill the last spot on their roster with a player eligible for the Rule Five Draft, but it could happen.
Just make sure to keep an eye out this offseason. The moves that end up having the biggest impact on this team might not be those involving bigger names.
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