The Cubs made some big moves to kick off the 2012 offseason. The move to bring in Theo Epstein as team president will certainly change the direction in Chicago and make them big players in the Midwest.
The move to sign Jed Hoyer as GM to give Epstein a familiar face to work with also signaled the seriousness Epstein has in taking the Cubs to the promise land.
It won't be easy, as Dale Sveum and every manager before him has said, and it is not getting any easier. However, the departure of Albert Pujols from the NL Central has created a power vacuum that the Cubs can certainly take advantage of this offseason.
Let's take a look at what Theo Epstein has done and should do for the Cubs this offseason.
If the arrival of outfielder David DeJesus did not signal the end of Cubs prospect Tyler Colvin's time with the Cubs, his trade to Colorado with D.J. LeMahieu for Ian Stewart and pitcher Casey Weathers certainly did. Colvin has potential, but he didn't click in time in the eyes of the new Cubs regime. DeJesus hit .240 with 10 home runs in 131 games this past season with Oakland, but has shown potential as a quality baseball player before. He also posted a .270 average after the All-Star break, with 5 home runs, 11 doubles, and a .342 on-base percentage.
The Cubs have talented youngster Brett Jackson who may be knocking on Chicago's door in 2012 if he continues his strong play. Jackson is suited in the corners, but if there is any saying in baseball that holds true it's this: If you can hit the ball you're going to find playing time.
The departure of third baseman Aramis Ramirez to the division rival Brewers certainly hurts, but any baseball fan should have saw this coming. Ramirez, who began his career with the Pirates and has remained in the NL Central his entire career, has very good statistics against the NL Central. No-brainer, but they would scare any former Cub critic now evaluating his numbers. Ian Stewart comes into Chicago with third base his own, no pressure or people challenging him just yet. He has tons of potential, but is coming off a rough 2011 and needed a change of scenery. He could blossom into a nice addition in Chicago and he will be 27 around Opening Day.
Prince Fielder is now the prized free agent remaining on the market. It looks like he is going to have his pick of the Mariners, Blue Jays, Cubs, Rangers, and many other potential suitors. His price range will certainly depend on years, likely getting less as the contract grows longer, but if the market gets aggressive anything goes.The Cubs need a big power hitting lefty not named Carlos Pena. Fielder would anchor the lineup in a way the Cubs have not been in years, likely paying dividends for the entire lineup, a group that features several quality major league prospects in Starlin Castro, Geovany Soto, and now Ian Stewart.
Given the recent news in the division, it would appear that Fielder is the Cubs' to lose if they want to make a statement this offseason.
If not Prince Fielder, then... Bryan LaHair? LaHair ripped the cover off the ball and showed off a nice swing at the end of the season in Chicago, but he has to be the "If All Else Fails" option. He is near-30 and would create a major hole in the lineup if he can't find his swing, but he is interesting to watch considering he hit .331 with 38 home runs and a .405 OBP in Triple-A.
More recently, he hit .248 with 8 home runs in 34 games (125 at-bats) in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Who isn't, right? Not quite. If Darvish does in fact become available its hard to see several teams making aggressive bids, on top of trying to sign the best pitcher out of Japan since Daisuke Matsuzaka. It is going to be expensive, and teams need to spend their resources elsewhere while money is tight. The Cubs do, however, have a lot of money coming off the books this offseason and are in dire need of starting pitching. Whether or not Zambrano returns it's not important. The Cubs' rotation currently features Big Z, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Randy Wells, and Casey Coleman. The Cubs hope Andrew Cashner can be healthy and successful next season, eliminating the need for Coleman in the rotation.
Wells put up decent numbers down the stretch but he is hard to trust, and it will be interesting to see if the Cubs go out of the organization in search of help. Can't forget how attached Theo Epstein was to scouting every prospective Japanese player. You have to think he is going to be in on it and Chicago is an even easier sell than Boston.
Not the most enthusing option but Maholm had his moments, and pitched effectively while having no run support or defense. He has talent and could put up respectable numbers on a team with a little more life in it. He will also come on the cheap, looking for another major league opportunity to rebuild his value. He is not certain to pitch in the rotation in Chicago but he will certainly find his niche.
Hawpe was a quality outfielder in Colorado, but has fallen off dramatically recently. A run in Chicago on a one-year deal would support the Cubs starters as well as the bench, and he would likely see 300 to 400+ at-bats.
If there is one way the Cubs brass can upset the Cubs fan base it would be by not re-signing Kerry Wood. He is a leader in the clubhouse and a mentor to the Cubs young pitchers. Make it happen and go from there.
Reliever Scott Linebrink is coming off another solid year in 2011. He posted his first sub-4 ERA since 2008, but the return to the NL definitely helped his game. Linebrink would settle in nicely in Chicago, pitching in the middle innings as well as setting up alongside Sean Marshall and Kerry Wood. Adding a third veteran would allow the Cubs to experiment with Jeff Samardzija, James Russell, and John Gaub in the other bullpen spots.
The Cubs have the money to make several moves this offseason. With the right combination, they can build a strong bullpen while adding pieces to their offense and starting rotation. The market is thin, and the right moves need to be carefully thought out.
But the worst move would be no move at this point.