Maybe Next Year? A Look At The Offseason
The Cubs are already committed to roughly $115 million in salary going into next season, and while they do have a few holes on the roster to fill, I seriously doubt that the Cubs front office plans on dismantling a 97-win team. So expect some mild tinkering, not the radical remakes of the past two offseasons.
Pending Free Agents:
Henry Blanco, C – The Cubs have a $3 million option on Blanco, a long-time fan favorite. Three mil is probably a lot to pay for a backup catcher, and while Blanco is probably an upgrade over Koyie Hill, that’s money that could be spent elsewhere. The Cubs could also be eyeing prospect Wellington Castillo as Soto’s backup of the future, and the future could be soon.
Jim Edmonds, CF & Reed Johnson, CF – The Cubs have a lot of decisions to make in the outfield this offseason, and they’ll probably break up the most successful outfield platoon for 2008 in the process. Edmonds has to decide whether or not he’s still interested in playing after this season. Johnson may see if he can find full-time work elsewhere. The Cubs need to figure out if they’re interested in a long-term answer or another one-year stopgap in center field.
Ryan Dempster, SP – Ryan Dempster is probably the single-biggest decision facing the club this offseason. Coming off a career year, he’ll probably be the third-most sought-after pitcher in free agency, possibly the second-most if the Jays are able to sign A.J. Burnett to an extension. (Sheets may have really hurt his cause with his late-season arm problems.)
That said, we’re talking about a guy with a career ERA identical Jason Marquis’, and the Cubs already have a lot of money locked up into the rotation, with commitments to Zambrano, Harden, Lilly and Marquis. They also have Marshall, Gaudin and Samardzija, all of whom could be competing for a rotation spot. Hendry stayed out of the Zito and Schmidt bloodbath, to no small credit, and he may decide to sit out on the bidding for Dempster. He’ll almost certainly rate Type A compensation, which means a first-round draft pick if the Cubs let him walk.
Rich Harden, SP – The Cubs have a $7 million option on Harden that’s simply a no-brainer. He’ll be back next season.
Kerry Wood, CL – And Wood’s the second-most likely guy on this list to return, right after Harden. He loves the Cubs, and the Cubs love Wood, and as a closer he was worth every penny to the team, some minor health issues notwithstanding.
Bob Howry, RP – Howry could be a Type B free agent, but after the year he’s had the Cubs may decide to not risk him accepting arbitration. I don’t think he’s in the team’s future plans.
Jon Lieber, RP – Lieber is most likely out of baseball at this point.
Daryle Ward, 1B – With the emergence of Micah Hoffpauir, it’s not clear that the Cubs need Ward (if they ever did). This is one area where the Cubs could trim a little salary without anyone noticing.
Jason Marquis, SP – After a blessedly mediocre season, Marquis could finally be tradable, especially with only one year remaining on his contract. He’s certainly expendable at this point.
Felix Pie, CF – The Cubs kept Pie on the postseason roster in preference of Micah Hoffpaiur, but that’s the only sign in a long time that the organization still holds Pie in any sort of high regard. Pie’s last minor league option year has been used, so the Cubs must keep him on the 25-man roster next season or lose him to waivers. The Cubs might decide to shop him instead.
Mark DeRosa, 2B – This is an outside shot, but I figured I’d mention it. The Cubs have Mike Fontenot, a capable replacement for DeRosa at the keystone. They could go out and get someone like (ugh) Willie Bloomquist for peanuts to fill the utility role, no doubt not as well as DeRosa but probably well enough. DeRosa is coming off a career year and has probably peaked as far as trade value goes.
Outfielder – The Cubs were able to find a stopgap in center field, but may attempt to address the issue long-term. There’s little chance they go into camp with little more than Pie and a prayer for a third time.
The free agent market for center fielders is thin at best and nonexistent at worst. The trade market looks pretty much the same as the last time we looked at it – Marlon Byrd? Coco Crisp?
The Cubs do have an inhouse candidate who seems ideal for the job – Kosuke Fukudome. Fukudome is probably never going to give Lou the offensive production he desires; his MO seems to be Ichiro Light, but with walks instead of singles. He’s a talented defender who could probably handle center well, and moving him out of right field relieves him of expectations on offense – particularly power – he likely can’t meet.
That opens a whole as soon as it creates one, though, leaving the Cubs with an opening in right field. They could consider moving DeRosa out to right field to make room for Mike Fontenot. Trader Jim could get creative, although after the Harden deal it’s not clear he has a whole lot to offer in trade.
There are some free agent corner outfielders available, although none of them sound like strictly good ideas. One free agent name to idly consider is Adam Dunn, the sort of lefty power Lou always seems to be after. Manny Ramirez is of course available, baggage included. There’s no indication that the Cubs are after that caliber of free agent, however. The Cubs could go back to kicking the tires on Raul Ibanez.
Shortstop – Don’t expect much on this front – Theriot put up a career year that should solidify him in the eyes of the organization going into next season. (I’m sure my own feelings on the matter are well known.) But if the organization still hasn’t forgotten about the allure of a switch-hitting leadoff man, Rafael Furcal is available through free agency.
On The Farm
There isn’t a lot of potential impact available from the farm system right now. The most interesting options are bench players – Micah Hoffpauir and Wellington Castillo. Hoffpauir you’re all familiar with by now, and it seems plausible that he’ll step into Daryle Ward’s spot on the bench next year.
Castillo is the organization’s top catching prospect following Soto’s matriculation. Nobody thinks he’s got Geovany’s potential on offense, but as a catch-and-throw type he has real potential. Could possibly be ready to be a backup as early as next year. Could also be trade bait, with Soto seemingly locked into the catcher position for a long time to come.
The Cubs also have a lot of fungible pieces when it comes to pitching in the minors – not really impact players but capable enough of slotting into middle/long relief roles out of the bullpen.