With free agents able to sign with new teams come tomorrow, you can expect that the Hot (and Lukewarm) Stove will be kicking into high gear over the next few weeks, and continuing on into January.

One of the Cubs’ greatest needs this Winter, as indicated by incoming GM Jed Hoyer, will be starting pitching. Even with the return of Ryan Dempster, who picked up his $14 million option for 2012, the Cubs’ rotation looks a bit like Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, and three question marks. Carlos Zambrano’s return is very much in doubt, Randy Wells’ effectiveness is similarly in doubt, and Andrew Cashner’s health is – you guessed it – in doubt. Other internal options – Jeff Samardzija, Casey Coleman, Jay Jackson, Trey McNutt – come with their own share of questions.

Indeed, it seems likely that, if the Cubs hope to have a deeper, more effective rotation next year, the free agent and trade markets will have to be heavily scoured.

One free agent who will potentially draw interest from the Cubs is cross-town rival, Mark Buehrle.

According to a source, the Cubs will be interested in the lefty if the price tag is not “astronomical.” Of course, when isn’t that true?

Buehrle has never been a Cubs’ fan favorite, primarily for being an unabashed White Sox and Cardinals’ homer – which, incidently, is a reason to doubt he’d come to the Cubs, given the other options he’ll have.

Setting that aside, Buehrle is an attractive free agent candidate for a rotation lacking consistency. At 32 (33 next year), Buehrle is coming off his fifth straight 100 ERA+ or better season. Indeed, he’s had just one sub-100 season (meaning, below average) in his entire career. Since becoming a full-time starter at age 22, he’s never thrown fewer than 200 innings in a season. He also just collected his third straight Gold Glove.

But, while Buehrle is something of a model of consistency, let’s be clear: he’s no ace. He is consistently above average, but consistently below great. His numbers are also trending in the wrong direction, with BB/9 holding steady, but K/9 falling consistently over the last four years. He would fit into almost any rotation in baseball, but he isn’t going to anchor any staffs. He’ll take the ball every fifth day, and most of the time, he’ll give the team a chance to win.

So, what’s “astronomical” for a guy like that? Buehrle has, himself, said he wants to play only another two or three years, so I’d say astronomical – in years – starts at four. In dollars, it’s hard to see a reliable but uninspiring 33-year-old pitcher being worth more than $10 million per year. When Ted Lilly re-signed with the Dodgers last year, he got three years at an average of $11 million per year. He was a year older than Buehrle will be, but he had also been much more effective in the preceding two years.

If Buehrle commands that kind of deal, I’m not sure the Cubs will be interested. A two year deal, or an annual figure closer to $8 or 9 million? They’d be interested.

But, then again, so would a lot of teams.

  • Kyle

    I’d take Buehrle on 2/$20 or 3/$27 without much hesitation. The bigger question is whether he’s really willing to sign with the Cubs.

    Heck, given the run on starting pitching and how badly the Cubs need it, and the fact that he can likely be had on a short-term deal with no long-term commitment, I might even go a few million higher than that.

    • nonesuch

      2/$20 absolutely. but my gut says a guy with a no-hitter on his resume and that rock-solid consistency will seek quite a bit more. Oswalt may be an option…

    • johnbres2

      I think that is right–would he really sign with the Cubs? You gotta figure the two teams closest to his heart are the Cardinals and the White Sox. Does Buehrle care about such things, or will it just be business, plain and simple?

  • johnbres2

    I have wondered about Buehrle from the start. What is not to like? Assuming he wants to play, he could easily pitch at his current level for five more years. He is a great fielder, a great guy, and I just think he would fit like a glove almost any type of team the Cubs are going to throw out there. The White Sox will not even be a player in the effort to keep him. I would expect the Cardinals to run at him. If the Cards don’t re-sign Pujols, they WILL try to get Buehrle. That might have an impact on the Theo Trio, as we can’t underestimate that a big part of their psyche is trying to keep up with and thwart the Yankees. Our new front office has just experienced the fact that the best team in baseball (at the moment) is the St. Louis Cardinals, and they will not want to see them get stronger. If the Cards have a healthy Wainwright, Carpenter, Garcia and Buehrle in their starting rotation, we can just forget about competing in the division for a few more years. I totally think the Cubs should make a serious run at Buehrle, for their own gain and the Cards loss.

    • TWC

      “What is not to like?”

      Well, he’s a donger, for one.  He’s like a dumber Lance Berkman.

  • Kerf

    I hope the cubs stay away from Buerhle – not only because, as you mentioned, he’s a sox and cardinal-loving bum, but also because every time I did see him in one way or another he’s looked like garbage to me. I am 100% biased, and he pulled his season together last year and has been consistent his entire career – but I just refuse to picture him in cubbie blue.

    • Spencer

      Seriously? So you’d never want the Cubs to sign Albert Pujols either, because he’s played for St. Louis his entire career? Baseball is a business, players come and go all the time. He wouldn’t be the first White Sox player to come and play for the Cubs (um, Sammy Sosa comes to mind), and if he does come, he won’t be the last.

  • http://bleachernation.com ricosanto

    Buehrle is a perfect fit for the Cubs, Great control, alot of groundballs with his sinkers.
    3 years @ 30 mil .His interleague record is one of the best in Baseball. He can sstay in his same house etc. I said this 2 weeks ago when it said the sox were going to offer 2 years.

  • Dan0mite

    Dave Kaplan said yesterday that he would have no interest in the Cubs.

    “Informed sources tell me that he has no interest in the Cubs and would not consider them.”

    • Katie

      Boo hoo!

      What a bum.

      • Lou

        Two words: band-aid. We got plenty of ’em here.

    • JasonB

      I could care less if Beuhrle doesn’t want to come to the Northside.  If we go the FA route for starting pitching, I’d like us to look at Javy Vazquez and Hiroki Kuroda.  After struggling early last year, Vazquez really came on in the 2nd half.  I’ve always been a fan of Kuroda – problem with both is that they’re old so I’d only look to sign them for 1 or 2 years but I’d take both over Buehrle.

  • CubbingTonight

    Mark Buehrle is a interesting name but I see him signing with the Cards. Three names I like are Jamie Moyer, Erik Bedard, and Tsuyoshi Wada. All will likely get 1-2 year deals between 4-8 million a year. Look for these names to pop up soon.

    • Hawkeye

      “I like are Jamie Moyer, Erik Bedard, and Tsuyoshi Wada. All will likely get 1-2 year deals between 4-8 million a year. Look for these names to pop up soon.”

      Jamie Moyer only “pops up” when he takes his little blue pill.  Even then, he will need to consult a physician if the game lasts longer than four hours.

      • http://www.michigangoat.blogspot.com MichiganGoat

        No to Bedard he is never healthy. The Cubs need a solid inning eating SP, doesn’t have to be great but someone who can pitch an entire season, keep ERA around 4.5, and eats 170+ innings. That pitcher won’t be exciting but it’s what this club needs so that we don’t have rush pitchers up or go with a carosel of arms. I’d be trilled if Theo and Jed find a arm that be healthy all year regardless of how good/bad he is.

  • InTheoItrust

    Buerhle does not want to join a rebuilding team. He will sign with the Cards or yankees. I think the cubs need to do a few things this offseason: sign 2 of these pitchers: Maholm,Pineiro,Garcia,Francis,or Bedard. I would prefer Bedard and Maholm. Offer Prince a very good 7 year deal in the lines of 168 million but under no circumstance should they go to 8 years or higher.Trade Byrd and Zambrano for salary relief. Sign Grady Sizemore to a one year deal at around 6 million. Put good offers out for Kelly Johnson or Aaron Hill, Hill maybe a 1 year 5 million and Johnson a 2 for 10. With these moves the cubs can compete for the NL central and not tied up into long term contracts. Lineup 2012:Castro,Hill,Sizemore,Fielder,Lahair/soriano,Soto,Dj/Baker,Jackson. Rotation:Garza,Demp,Maholm,Bedard,Cashner/wells.

    • Dave H

      Doesnt seem likely. If you add all of those guys you would be tacking on some $60M to the payroll. Big Z’s trade wouldn’t be enough of a dump (byrd either). If we are in fact going young, but competing, pitching staff has to be addressed until we get enough in the minors to replenish a starting staff and take care of any injuries we may have during the season. If you can get a pitching coach to help Z and Marmol, teach kids how to pitch without their best stuff all the time, and stress mechanics, you can get a couple of decent bargain pitchers to ride the storm for a while. I hope we can do the following:

      1] Dump bad contracts (Soriano) We can handle Z’s for one more year – july trade?
      2] keep up with the drafting of some future studs.
      3] Show that the northside is going to take any crap anymore.
      4] Get a good medical staff. We haven’t had any luck with the DL for about 12 years now.
      5] Have the coaching staff mirror the front office. Top notch.

      St. Louis doesn’t have the “Larussa” edge anymore. Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh. Cincy will blow up soon due to the “Dusty” affect. Houston just blows.(maybe gone soon anyhow). Milwaukee won’t be able to afford a large payroll especially if they sign Fielder. Winnable Division for years to come.

      Sorry for the rant


    • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

      I’ve seen several people say the Cubs should go after Aaron Hill lately, and I don’t get why. Yes, he had a great run for the Diamondbacks, but look at his career numbers. It’s not a whole lot of impressive. That makes me question how much the jump in his performance is due to a change in league and a move from the AL East to the NL West. I really don’t see Hill doing anything for the Cubs that LeMahieu can’t do, and LeMahieu is already on the roster and will be a lot cheaper. With Baker, DeWitt, and Flaherty, the Cubs have plenty of options even if something happens to LeMahieu, and that’s ignoring the possible breakout Lake is enjoying. Hill’s not a bad player, I just don’t get the argument that the Cubs should have any interest in him.

      • Fishin Phil

        Agree with you Luke.

    • TSB

      Try and sign Fielder only if the NL authorizes the DH begininng in 2013.

  • jstraw

    I already consider Mark Buehrle…a douche.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Haha. Splendid.

  • mrmeyer2144

    How about signing a guy like Edwin Jackson. The guy throws hard and has been effective. As a lefty maybe someone like Paul Maholm who may come cheeper. We just need a lefty in the rotation bad.

    • Aaron

      Jackson has a decent bat in bunt situations, too.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Maholm’s shoulder injury makes me nervous.

    • http://cubbiescrib.com Luke

      I’d take a gamble on either guy, if the price was right.

      The Cubs might have their lefty for the rotation next season. Don’t sleep on Chris Rusin. He’s not a lock to make the rotation by any means, but he should be in the competition in the spring, and I think he’ll make a fairly effective back of the rotation starter for the Cubs in the next year or so. Of course, two lefties are always better than one…

  • die hard

    Marshall could give us 6-7 quality innings each time out….should consider moving him to starter

  • InTheoItrust

    How do you figure with the payroll Dave? you take 60 plus 6 with byrd, plus atleast 6 with Z. Thats 72 take 72-25 for the first year of Fielder that leaves 47 -6 for Sizemore were at 41 take Maholm at 10 and the other pitcher at 8 (this is adding a few million b/c i think you could get 2 of them for 8 mil a piece) that puts 23 left on the table for 5 or 6 for hill or Kelly Johnson that leaves 17. The cubs could use that 15-17 million left over to put toward Wrigley,sign a few more draft picks, whatever they want to use it for. I do agree with you that if you can’t get atleast 6 mil for Z you keep him for one more year and use as trade bait.

  • Fishin Phil
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