[Site note: This morning my daughter is getting tubes put in her ears, so the Bullets will be delayed. There is also a chance that the winner of the Yu Darvish post will be announced this morning (the Cubs put in a bid, and a Cubs source tells me it was sufficiently high that "I wouldn't be surprised if we won"). If that happens, I'll try to get something up - but feel free to put it in the comments if you get the news before I'm able to post about it.]
The Chicago Cubs continue to show interest in middle tier (read: cheap) options this offseason. The latest rumors have them looking at a trio of players, none of whom is quite as sexy – in the baseball rumor sense, that is – as Prince Fielder or Yu Darvish.
First, the Cubs are reportedly interested in outfielder Coco Crisp to play left field in 2012. Crisp, 32, had his first healthy season in years in 2011, but hit just .264/.314/.379 while making $5.75 million with the A’s. Noted for his outfield defense, most metrics have him average or below average last year.
Taken together, Crisp looks like the kind of “buy low” candidate the Cubs have pursued this offseason – both David DeJesus and Ian Stewart are coming off of markedly down years. Crisp played for Theo Epstein in Boston from 2006 to 2008.
But what about that “to play left field” part? Don’t the Cubs currently have a left fielder named Alfonso Soriano? Soriano is under contract with the Cubs for three more years at $18 million per, but has seen his defensive performance decline to the point that few have really expected him to break 2012 as the Cubs’ starting left fielder – even if we had no idea how exactly the Cubs planned to move him. He still has value offensively, but, so far, that hasn’t translated into much interest from AL teams looking for a DH on the cheap. If the Cubs signed someone like Crisp and were unable to deal Soriano, it’s possible the team could utilize an outfield rotation or a platoon in left field (Crisp, who is a switch-hitter, has a higher career OBP as a left-handed hitter (.332 versus .325), but slugs better as a righty (.420 versus .401). Or maybe Soriano is dumped outright, something Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been told they have the authority to do.
Crisp isn’t the only former Red Sox player interesting the Cubs right now, according to Phil Rogers. He’s got the Cubs also looking at veteran Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek, each of whom is not expected to return to the Red Sox next year.
Wakefield, 45, is a long-time, moderately-successful knuckleballer, who, at this point in his career, can give you one thing: innings. He hasn’t been a better than average pitcher since 2009, sporting ERAs well over 5 the last two years. He made $2 million last year.
Varitek, who turns 40 in April, still puts up decent offensive numbers for catcher (in limited duty his line hovers around .220/.310/.450), though his defense has waned as he’s aged. With Koyie Hill out the door, the Cubs could be looking for a veteran back-up – though I’ve actually heard Varitek’s name connected to the Cubs for a few weeks now. Epstein has apparently always liked Varitek’s presence in the clubhouse and leadership (insert picture of Chemistry Cat). Like Wakefield, Varitek made $2 million last year.
If Varitek were to come in, and starting catcher Geovany Soto were to stay, it’s hard to say what would happen with young catcher Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger, who are about as ML-ready as they’re going to be. That is not to say either will ever succeed in the bigs, but it’s high time to see what they’ve got. The other possibility, of course, is that the Cubs are considering dealing Soto, and want to make sure to have a good, veteran back-up catcher in place if, for example, Castillo is to get his shot as the starter.
Rogers notes that, in both Wakefield’s and Varitek’s cases, nothing is imminent, as the Cubs explore “options with more shelf life.”