The Cubs have a good deal of work to do in order to succeed in 2012. Luckily, there is a deep free agent pool this offseason, especially on offense. If the Cubs choose wisely, they could be a contending force.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will weigh their options carefully—their choices this offseason will affect the Cubs well into the future. Here are the top 10 most important free agents the Cubs could pursue.
Albert Pujols is the best hitter on the market. All things considered, he is the single most valuable player the Cubs could acquire.
Pujols has been completely dominant thus far in his career. He has one three MVP awards (and also finished second in MVP voting on four other occasions), is a lifetime .328 hitter and has won two World Series titles.
Because Albert Pujols is the best pure hitter in the Major Leagues, he is expected to get payed accordingly. But at 31 years old and coming off of his worst season, an expensive and lengthy contract comes with some risk. His production could dip dramatically near the end of his contract.
Still, Pujols has a lot of production left in him. He will be a dangerous and feared hitter in any team's lineup. Depending on how much cash the Cubs are willing to spend, they could still have the resources to build a balanced team around him.
Scoring Albert Pujols would be a big move; it would instantly make the Cubs a much better team. With Pujols, the Cubs would be close to contention.
Prince is a pure power hitter; he has hit over 30 home runs per season and averaged over 100 RBI. He is consistent, productive and competitive. The Cubs have not had an offensive player of his caliber since Derek Lee was in his prime, and Fielder is more durable.
Fielder is only 27 years old, so he could become a fixture in the middle of the Cubs order. The Cubs need a potent run producer, and Fielder fits the bill.
C.J. Wilson is a tempting starting pitching option for the Cubs. Wilson is young, talented and has proven that he can succeed among the best baseball players in the world.
The only major challenges to Wilson's resume are his postseason struggles. A team that wishes to contend needs a pitcher who can perform under stressful conditions. Still, Wilson has been the ace of the AL pennant winning Texas Rangers twice now, and will likely perform even better in the National League.
If Theo Epstein wants to immediately make the Cubs better, a starting pitcher of Wilson's caliber will go a long way. Further, given Wilson's age, he could hold down an important role in the Cubs rotation for many years.
Yu Darvish is an intriguing possibility. Japanese pitchers have generally had a tough time in the major leagues, but many scouts are still very interested in Darvish.
Why is this? Because Darvish has tools that should translate into success anywhere.
There are a lot of factors that go into a pitcher's success. Darvish will face significantly more challenging hitters in the United States. Still, a pitcher with a mid-90s heater and an effective slider will attract attention.
Theo Epstein will be especially wary of signing Darvish, given his experience with Daisuke Matsuzaka. Yu Darvish will be scouted carefully, but the sheer amount of teams interested in him practically guarantees him a big contract. Darvish will be a significant risk, but one that could pay off.
Mark Buehrle does not have overwhelming stuff, but he is a consistent and crafty pitcher. Indeed, Buehrle has played to his strengths well enough to throw two no-hitters, including a perfect game. Though Buehrle is getting older now, he could still be a valuable addition to any pitching staff. Southpaws who rely on knowledge and location tend to age gracefully.
Starting pitching was a serious problem for the Cubs last year, especially at the back end of the rotation. Buehrle would eat a lot of innings and consistently turn in respectable performances, so he seems like a reasonable move for the Cubs.
Edwin Jackson is another possible pitching option for the Cubs. Jackson has a reputation as an underachiever, but he has actually been pretty solid, posting an ERA well under 4.00 since being traded to the Chicago White Sox in 2010.
The lack of free agent starting pitching might cause Jackson to ask for more than he is worth, so the Cubs will have to be careful. Edwin Jackson is not ace material, and the Cubs should pay him accordingly.
Few things are more comforting than a lights out closer. After having Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol handle the ninth inning for the last three years, the Cubs need a consistent closer if they want to turn their franchise around.
Heath Bell is a dependable pitcher with good stuff. He has been an All-Star for the last three years, and deservedly so.
Along with Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall and Jeff Samardzija, the Cubs could easily have one of the best bullpens in the baseball. Further, getting Marmol out of the high stress demands of the closing role might help him excel as well.
Michael Cuddyer would give the Cubs something similar to Carlos Beltran, except Cuddyer is younger. Cuddyer is a good hitter, and at 32 years old, he probably has a few more productive years left.
Cuddyer could provide a boost to the Cubs anemic outfield of Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and Tyler Colvin. But the Cubs want to build a perennial contender, and Cuddyer might be too old and expensive to fit into their plans, especially with Brett Jackson performing well in the minors.
Cuddyer would give the Cubs an immediate lift, but is unlikely to figure into the Cubs long-term plans.
Yoenis Cespedes is probably the most tantalizing outfield option for the Cubs. Cespedes is a Cuban baseball star, and many teams are strongly considering him. Among those teams are the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, so expect the bidding for Cespedes to be costly.
Cespedes is a true athlete; he is a five-tool player and possesses incredible power and speed. He is only 26 years old, so he could be a dynamic and exciting player for the Cubs for many years to come.
The Cubs already know what they will get with Carlos Pena—solid power production, a good attitude and excellent defense. Critics of the first baseman point to his lackluster batting average, but Pena's numbers are actually quite good.
Batting average is a good indication of a talented hitter, but in terms of production, it is not all-important.
Pena's true value is revealed in his on-base percentage. In this department, he is comparable to Aramis Ramirez and significantly better than Starlin Castro. It might not be pretty, but Carlos Pena gets on base. Further, Pena has excellent power numbers—he has averaged 34 home runs and 96 RBI per season thus far.
Pena is 33 years old, and may be past his prime by the time the Cubs reach contention again. If this is the case, Theo Epstein and company might deem him too expensive for a stopgap.