Complete Offseason Guide, Predictions for the Chicago Cubs

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistOctober 22, 2015

Complete Offseason Guide, Predictions for the Chicago Cubs

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Nobody likes to lose, and getting swept, as the Chicago Cubs were by the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series, only makes losing sting that much more. While feelings of disappointment are to be expected, there shouldn't be a Cubs fan moping around the streets of Chicago.

    With the core of the team under control for the foreseeable future, a deep farm system and ownership that is committed to bringing a championship back to the North Side, few teams have as bright a future as the Cubs do.

    The pain of falling short in 2015 is only going to make this team better moving forward.

    That said, changes will certainly be made this coming winter. What follows is an overview of some of the decisions the team is going to have to make—and some of the players the front office may look at to bolster the roster.

Payroll Breakdown

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    How much will Tom Ricketts give Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to spend?
    How much will Tom Ricketts give Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to spend?Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    When CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney asked Cubs owner Tom Ricketts about the team's 2016 payroll in late September, the answer was about as vague as you could get:

    “I don’t know what the number is. Obviously, winning on the field helps with that equation. And Theo will have some resources this offseason. But I don’t know how (much). And I’m not sure he’ll find something he wants to do with ‘em. It’s up to him.”

    If that weren't enough to send some Cubs fans into a panic, he went on to say that spending money on free agents isn't all it's cracked up to be:

    Obviously, winning helps the payroll analysis, (but) it’s not about payroll anymore. The fact is, the correlation between the dollars you spend and the wins you get on the field is going down every single year. 

    So in order to have sustainable success, you can’t count on money. You have to count on young talent.

    It'd be easy to come to the conclusion, then, that the Cubs won't be big spenders this coming offseason. But that'd be the wrong conclusion to make. Ricketts hasn't denied team president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer up to this point, and the pair has delivered results.

    There's a palpable buzz surrounding the club that hasn't been felt or seen in decades. As much as one-and-done stings, the future in Chicago is brighter than it's ever been before. Do you really think Ricketts is about to start saying "no" to that pair now?

    If Epstein and Hoyer need additional financial resources to help the Cubs take the next step, they'll get them.

Arbitration-Eligible Players

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    Jake Arrieta
    Jake ArrietaAssociated Press

    Players Headed for Arbitration (2015 salary)

    • RHP Jake Arrieta ($3.63 million)
    • OF Chris Coghlan ($2.505 million)
    • RHP Justin Grimm ($531,500)
    • IF Jonathan Herrera ($900,000)
    • RHP Yoervis Medina ($527,300)
    • RHP Hector Rondon ($544,000)
    • RHP Pedro Strop ($2.525 million)
    • RHP Jacob Turner ($1 million)
    • LHP Tsuyoshi Wada ($4 million)
    • LHP Travis Wood ($5.685 million)

    The days of Jake Arrieta making seven figures are over. After a Cy Young Award-worthy campaign, Chicago's 29-year-old ace is going to see his yearly salary triple through arbitration, landing somewhere around $11 million.

    It would make sense for the team to pursue a multi-year extension with him this winter. The four-year, $38 million pact a then 28-year-old Corey Kluber signed with Cleveland after his Cy Young Award-winning season in 2014 is a good starting point.

    But Arrieta is also only two years away from free agency and is represented by Scott Boras, which puts a more realistic starting point in the neighborhood of five-years, $100 million. And even that might be too low. While continuing to talk extension, they agree on a one-year, $11.25 million pact.

    After Arrieta, the team has to focus on the bullpen, where three key pieces—Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and closer Hector Rondon are due raises. Rondon and Strop are the big winners, landing salaries of $4 million and $3.5 million, respectively, while Grimm more than doubles his paycheck to $1.25 million.

Chicago's Own Free Agents and Players with Options

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    Dexter Fowler
    Dexter FowlerAssociated Press

    Potential Free Agents

    • RHP Trevor Cahill
    • OF Chris Denorfia
    • OF Dexter Fowler
    • RHP Dan Haren
    • RHP Tommy Hunter
    • OF Austin Jackson
    • RHP Jason Motte
    • LHP Clayton Richard
    • RHP Fernando Rodney

    The Cubs don't necessarily need to re-sign any of their own free agents, but if there's one name that stands out among the rest, it's Dexter Fowler. While he's a defensive liability in center field, he offered above-average production at the plate (17 HR, .757 OPS, 110 wRC+) and was the team's leadoff hitter.

    But you have to figure that prospect Albert Almora, a defensive whiz with a still-developing bat, is going to get a chance in spring training to prove he belongs. Re-signing Fowler would essentially block Almora's path to the big leagues, and that's something the Cubs may not be willing to do.

    While letting Fowler walk would be something of a risk—especially if Almora shows that he's not yet ready—there will be other options available via free agency and potential trades.

Potential Free-Agent Targets

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    David Price
    David PriceAssociated Press

    Should the Cubs decide to become major players in free agency, bolstering both the starting rotation and bullpen figure to be their primary focus. Luckily for them, a wide variety of quality options to fill both roles will be available.

    Here are some of the names the Cubs could be linked to once free agency begins:

    • Rajai Davis, CF: If Dexter Fowler departs, Davis would be an inexpensive replacement. A defensive upgrade, he offers little power but still has the speed to cause problems on base at the age of 35. He also wouldn't block the aforementioned Albert Almora if and when he's ready.
    • Darren O'Day, RHP: Has quietly become one of the game's elite non-closing relievers, pitching to a 2.07 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with 402 strikeouts over 400 innings of work since 2009. While he's better against right-handed batters, he's become adept at shutting down the opposition from either side of the plate.
    • David Price, LHP: The Cubs had interest in Price before he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, and there's no reason to believe that interest has waned. An Arrieta-Price-Lester trifecta atop the rotation would be, well, ridiculous. So too will Price's next contract, which may ultimately be the reason he lands elsewhere.
    • Jeff Samardzija, RHP: Samardzija struggled with the Chicago White Sox but has a track record of success and less wear-and-tear on his arm than other free-agent starter. Won't cost nearly as much as other top options due to his late-season fade, and the Cubs certainly know what they'd be getting, given his extensive history with the team.
    • Ben Zobrist, IF/OF: Zobrist will be entering his age-35 season and doesn't seem like a fit, given the Cubs' already crowded infield and left field picture. But the versatile veteran remains highly productive and effective at multiple positions and, like Price, he has a long history with Joe Maddon from their days together in Tampa Bay. Should the team look to move Javier Baez and/or Starlin Castro for pitching this winter, Zobrist could be a short-term answer at second base.

Potential Trade Targets

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    Brett Gardner
    Brett GardnerAssociated Press

    This may be the winter when the Cubs decide to move some of their infield depth for help elsewhere, with Javier Baez and Starlin Castro the two most obvious candidates to be dealt.

    That said, I am in no way, shape or form suggesting a one-for-one deal involving Baez or Castro for any of the players listed below. I'm merely noting that should the Cubs look to wheel-and-deal this winter, they are the two players most likely to be dangled as trade bait.

    Keep in mind, there's no indication that any of the players listed below are readily available...yet. But once the playoffs are over and the offseason kicks into high gear, they could be.

    • Brett Gardner, OF, New York YankeesA Gold Glove defender who can play all three outfield positions, Gardner's hard-nosed playing style would make him a hit at Wrigley Field. His speed and on-base skills make him a fit atop the lineup.
    • Nate Karns, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays were listening to offers for the 27-year-old at the trade deadline and could look to deal from their pitching depth again this winter. Lacks elite velocity but has tremendous offspeed offerings.
    • Tyson Ross, RHP, San Diego PadresRoss doesn't get the publicity he would if he played in a bigger market, but the 28-year-old is one of the better starters in the National League. Pitched to a 3.26 ERA (2.98 FIP) and 1.31 WHIP despite struggling with his control all season long.

    Unless otherwise noted/linked, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs; all payroll and salary information courtesy of Cot's Contracts.

    Want to talk Cubs' offseason plans or anything baseball related? Hit me up on Twitter: @RickWeinerBR

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