And Free Agency Begins…

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Now that the Cubs have hired a manager, two searches begin: one to fill out the coaching staff, the other to fill out the team. The next four to six weeks should be very interesting as the direction of the team for 2014 takes shape. This past week also saw Theo, Jed, and Crane Kenney make their pitches to season ticket holders about the direction. They pretty much admitted they jumped the gun on Edwin Jackson in the wake of losing Anibal Sanchez. It was an interesting discussion.

There Is Only One Free Agent?
Despite there be several quality free agents on the market, most are on the wrong side of thirty. There is one who is the biggest prize of all. Masahiro Tanaka is getting ready to turn 25. He is also getting ready to make a lot of money for himself and his former Japanese team. In order to negotiate with Tanaka, a MLB team has to post a fee which goes directly to the . The record is $57 million for Yu Darvish. Tanaka’s posting will likely be over $75 million because of his young age. Then you still have to sign him. The Dodgers and the Yankees could drive up the posting fee to $100 million. Tanaka has been brilliant in the Nippon league and a signing by the Cubs would mark a turning point in the franchise. I just don’t see the Cubs making that kind of bid, I just don’t. The Ricketts family won’t do it.

On the Other Hand…
There are two key free agents who would make nice additions to the Cubs staff.

One is a bit risky after two down years, the other is on a comeback which can only get better. Scott Kazmir had a nice comeback season after not playing major league ball in 2012. He went 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA, struck 162 in 158 innings, and more importantly he had good peripherals with a 3.51 FIP and a fangraphs WAR of 2.5. Only 29, the former darling of the Mets and Rays appears to have rebounded from a mid-career crisis.
The other pitcher that would look good in blue pinstripes is Josh Johnson. The former Marlin prodigy had a terrible 2013 going 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA. All is not lost. Only 29, his career could be salvageable. However, his problem is a shoulder injury from 2011 which is much harder to come back from than an elbow injury. He fits the definition of a high risk-high reward signing. If he could regain his 2010 form when he went 11-6 with a 2.30 ERA, that is not wishful thinking. Of the two, Kazmir would be the logical choice. Johnson, if he rebounds on a short team deal, could be flipped for more assets. I think you would to sign Kazmir to a longer deal.

The Big Problem – Who Is Coming and When
For the Cubs, one problem this winter is they have a lot of holes (LF, 3B, CF) and don’t want to trade any of their young assets to fill them. The bigger problem is they have young players like Baez, Almora, Bryant, Soler, and Alcantara coming in the next two years, but will they be coming this June? September? June of 2015? It is still uncertain. What is not uncertain is that those players are close. Therefore, it makes it harder to pursue free agents only to replace them in less than two years. There is no certainty not even for Starlin Castro who has been linked to trades to St. Louis and Seattle.

For example, Darwin Barney has a great glove and a terrible bat. As suggested by Cubs Den, losing Barney and replacing him with the platoon of Murphy and Valbuena would be a good move when Baez or Bryant comes up. Do you then just dump Barney for nothing or do you try to get something for him? The Samardjiza issue is another area. He is signed through 2015. I don’t see him being part of the long-term future if you can get something nice for him from Arizona like Archie Bradley (a beast in my opinion) or Tyler Skaggs. Samardjiza to me has all the talent to be a top of the rotation guy but not the consistency. He has filthy stuff but he can’t go out start after start and get it done. He is an up and down pitcher. When he is good, he is very good. When he is bad….ouch!

In the end…

The pickings are slim this winter for position players in free agency. While Ellsbury, Cano, and Choo are all nice players, they are beyond replicating their past performance of their younger years. When the Cubs are ready to contend, they will acquire free agents. It is just not this winter. Look for them to add nice bench and role players along with bullpen help. I just don’t see the Cubs going out and spending a lot of money. If they could land the great whale of Tanaka, that would be a different story altogether. He would be a Cub during his prime years when the prospects are supposed to arrive. And he is definitely a #1 starter, something the Cubs lack, among other things. But is he worth a $100 million posting fee? He might be.
This next week will see the MLB meetings take place and the wheeling and dealing will begin.


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