Chicago Cubs' Top Free-Agent, Trade Targets Post New Year
Fresh off a long-awaited World Series title and with a young core that rivals any in baseball, the Chicago Cubs entered the offseason with a fairly short to-do list.
Wade Davis and Koji Uehara have been added to the back of the bullpen, and veteran outfielder Jon Jay was signed to pair with Albert Almora Jr. in replacing Dexter Fowler in center field.
With those moves made, there appear to be two major areas the team may still look to address before the starting of spring training:
- Starting pitching depth: The departure of Jason Hammel will likely push Mike Montgomery into the starting rotation as the No. 5 starter behind the returning staff of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey. Also, losing Travis Wood and Trevor Cahill leaves the team without much in the way of depth, so at the very least a capable arm or two that can be stashed in Triple-A seems like a must.
- Left-handed reliever: With Montgomery slated to start and Wood unlikely to be re-signed, the Cubs top lefty relief option is currently veteran Brian Duensing, who was signed to a one-year, $2 million deal. Rule 5 pick Blake Smith and waiver claims Jake Leathersich and David Rollins are also options, but the team would benefit from a better primary lefty option.
So who might the team be targeting to fill these areas of need?
Ahead is a look at five players who make sense as perhaps the finishing touch on what would be another successful offseason for the defending champions.
RP Boone Logan (Free Agent)
Boone Logan landed a three-year, $16.5 million deal from the Colorado Rockies last time he reached free agency, and the 32-year-old could be in line for a similar payday this winter given the way the market for quality left-handed bullpen arms has developed.
Aside from a rough first season in Colorado, Logan has been mostly terrific dating back to a breakout season with the New York Yankees in 2010.
He's made at least 60 appearances in four of the past five seasons—the outlier being the aforementioned 2014 season when he battled a bum elbow that eventually required surgery for a bone spur—and has averaged at least 11 strikeouts per nine innings each year.
Logan pitches off a fastball that averaged 93.9 mph and a terrific slider that opposing hitters managed just an .092 batting average and 48 strikeouts against, per Brooks Baseball.
He's also plenty familiar with Chicago, having come up through the White Sox organization as a 20th-round pick in the 2002 draft.
The three-year, $19 million deal the Rockies gave Mike Dunn seems like a reasonable comparison for Logan, though the more time he spends on the market the more open he may be to a two-year deal.
RP Jerry Blevins (Free Agent)
Jerry Blevins fits exactly what the Cubs are looking for to round out the bullpen as a quality left-hander with late-inning experience.
The fact that they would be signing him away from the New York Mets is just icing on the cake.
Blevins suffered a pair of arm fractures in 2015, limiting him to just seven appearances, but that didn't stop the Mets from bringing him back on a one-year, $4 million deal last winter.
That proved to be one of the team's better moves during what was a busy offseason, as Blevins joined Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia at the back of one of the better bullpens in the National League.
The 33-year-old topped 60 appearances in three straight seasons before his injury-plagued 2015 campaign and then set a new career-high with 73 games in 2016, so durability is not a real concern despite his medical history.
Blevins scrapped his cut-fastball after the 2014 season and has become essentially a fastball-curveball pitcher during his time with the Mets while mixing in the occasional changeup.
That's helped boost his ground-ball rate, which was a healthy 45.8 percent this past season and also contributed to a career-best 11.1 K/9.
He falls in the same category as Logan, where the three-year, $19 million deal signed by Mike Dunn looks like the best comparison on this year's market.
RP Justin Wilson (Trade Target)
There's a fairly significant drop-off in the remaining lefty reliever options behind Logan and Blevins, assuming Travis Wood finds someone willing to give him a chance to win a rotation spot.
Veterans J.P. Howell and Javier Lopez are the best of the rest, though neither was particularly effective in 2016, and they might not profile as much of an upgrade over Brian Duensing at this point.
With that in mind, if the Cubs aren't interested in paying up to sign Logan or Blevins, they could turn their attention to the trade market.
One player they've already been linked to is Detroit Tigers setup man Justin Wilson, who generated significant interest during the winter meetings from a range of teams, including the Cubs, per Jon Morosi of MLB Network.
Wilson, 29, joined the Tigers last offseason in a deal that sent Chad Green and Luis Cessa—two young pitchers set to compete for a rotation spot this spring—to the New York Yankees.
His calling card is a heavy, mid-90s sinker that helped induce a 54.9 percent ground-ball rate, and he pairs it with a solid cut-fastball while mixing in the occasional curveball and changeup left over from his days as a starter in the minors.
Wilson has two years of team control remaining with a $2.7 million projected arbitration salary for the upcoming season, giving him enough value that it will take at least one solid prospect to pry him loose.
A package built around infielder Jeimer Candelario, who is MLB-ready but solidly blocked in Chicago, could be enough to intrigue the Tigers.
SP Jason Hammel (Free Agent)
The Cubs held a $12 million team option on Jason Hammel for the upcoming season but allowed the veteran starter to decide whether he would return or test the free-agent market this winter, per Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com.
Hammel opted to test the market, and that looked like the right move at the time. He profiled as a top-five starting pitching option and a safe bet for a multi-year deal.
Unfortunately for him, that's not how his market has developed, as John Perrotto of FanRag Sports explained:
One of the biggest surprises of free agency is that right-hander Jason Hammel has received limited interest despite going a combined 25-17 with a 3.79 ERA in 61 starts with the Chicago Cubs over the last two seasons.
However, many teams are unwilling to commit to Hammel beyond one year after the Cubs left him off the postseason roster because of elbow tightness. Scouts also believe the quality of the 34-year-old’s stuff is declining.
Hammel changed agencies earlier this month in hopes of drumming up more suitors, switching to ACES from Octagon.
“He’s going to have to lower his sights,” a scout from an American League team said. “There are just too many questions marks surrounding him. I’m not saying he couldn’t help someone, it’s just that he’s not a sure thing and it’s tough to commit a lot of money to that kind of player.”
If he is in fact limited to one-year offers, the Cubs could throw out the same one-year, $12 million deal that he turned down at the start of the offseason as a do-over of sorts.
That would allow Mike Montgomery to move back to the bullpen for the time being, simultaneously addressing the need for a lefty reliever while adding a known commodity to the back of the rotation.
SP Tyson Ross (Free Agent)
2015 Stats (injured in 2016, made just one start)
There's no bigger upside play on the free-agent market this winter than right-hander Tyson Ross.
It should come as no surprise then that as many as 20 teams have shown interest in signing him, per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports.
The Cubs are front-and-center among that group, and this is not the first time they have shown interest in acquiring Ross.
"The Padres were close to trading Ross to the Cubs for Starlin Castro," one source told Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago. "San Diego execs were mixed on asking for Castro or Javier Baez. The deal went down to the wire in late July of 2015 but never got to the point of exchanging medicals."
A lot has changed since then.
Ross left his Opening Day start last season with what was originally deemed shoulder inflammation, but the issue persisted and it was eventually revealed that he needed thoracic outlet surgery.
With a $9.6 million projected arbitration salary the Padres opted to cut ties, and Ross is reportedly seeking a one-year deal in the $9-11 million range, all guaranteed, per Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.
Ideally, he would sign to something more like a one-year, $5 million deal that includes plenty of incentives for innings pitched and perhaps a mutual option for a second year.
However, even if it means rolling the dice on a $10 million guarantee, taking a chance on Ross is a move that could pay huge dividends for the Cubs in their pursuit of another title.