After outfielders Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth headlined the free-agent class this past offseason, it is first base where the big time free agents lie this coming offseason, with superstars Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder hitting the open market.
Last winter, the Cubs signed Rays first baseman Carlos Pena to a one-year, $10 million deal to replace the departed Derrek Lee in what seemed to be a stop gap move. He has played well this season with 23 home runs and 67 RBI, although his batting average has not improved much.
That said chances are he will be seeking a multi-year deal when he too hits free agency this winter, and while he provides good power and plus defense the Cubs may be unwilling to commit multiple years to someone who has hit .215 over the past three seasons.
With over $40 million coming off the books, the Cubs are in a position to make a splash this winter, and while they will not doubt be linked to both star sluggers, the team would be wise to focus on improving their pitching staff before anything else.
Matt Garza will be back to front the rotation, and Ryan Dempster is signed through next season, but beyond those two lies a number of question marks.
The free-agent class of starting pitchers is relatively deep, headlined by Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Brad Penny and the biggest name in Rangers' ace C.J. Wilson.
Who Will Be The Cubs First Baseman in 2012
If the team does choose to sign one or more starting pitchers to fill out the rotation, that would take them out of the running for Pujols and Fielder, and while re-signing Pena remains and option the answer to their first base vacancy may lie in their own minor league system right now, in 28-year-old Bryan LaHair.
Signed as a free agent heading into spring training in 2010, LaHair came up in the Mariners organization but never managed to make an impact at the big league level. Last season, he spent the entire year at Triple-A Iowa where he hit .308/.385/.557 with 25 HR and 81 RBI.
This season he has been even better, as the 6'5" left-handed batter has hit .335/.412/.667 with 34 HR and 92 RBI, and that should mean a September call-up for him this season.
If he performs well down the stretch and his power translates to the big league level, he should be given a long look next spring, and while his defense is not on par with Pena's he would represent a low-cost power bat.
One thing is for sure, this coming offseason will go a long way towards dictating what direction the Cubs' organization is heading, and the team would be wise to think twice before they commit themselves to another mega contract in the mold of the deals Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano currently have.