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Yesterday, the buzz was all about newly-displaced San Diego Padres’ first base prospect Anthony Rizzo, and the Cubs front office’s connection thereto. With Yonder Alonso taking the reigns at first base for the Padres, suddenly Rizzo was without a job – and the Cubs, among other teams, came a-calling.

But, like, aren’t the Cubs already in pursuit of a certain older, heftier, more certain (and more expensive) free agent first baseman?

Yes, the Cubs are still pursuing Prince Fielder, according to ESPN’s Bruce Levine, who spoke to the matter on his Saturday morning radio show, and wrote an article to the same effect. As I suspected, manager Dale Sveum’s comments that the Cubs hadn’t spoken to Fielder were literally true, according to Levine’s source. The distinction is that the Cubs’ brass has been speaking with Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, and not with Fielder, himself. Sveum’s comments didn’t really mean much – except that he’s been well-coached by the new men in charge.

But, at the same time that Levine was saying the Cubs remain interested in Fielder (and ESPN’s Eric Karabell was guessing Fielder winds up with the Cubs, as many other members of the national media have guessed), the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Joe Strauss was writing that the Cubs’ interest in Fielder was merely a smokescreen. For what, exactly, Strauss didn’t say.

Throw in yesterday’s Rizzo wrinkle, and it becomes brutally difficult to know just what the Cubs are hoping/planning to accomplish. As usual, it’s virtually impossible to separate fact from concoction, legitimate interest from diversion.

Is it possible that the Cubs’ discussions with the Padres about Rizzo are a mere pressure point, designed to spur Prince Fielder’s camp to action, and to accept a shorter-term deal with the Cubs? Yup. It’s possible.

Is it possible that the Cubs’ pursuit of Fielder is a smokescreen, designed to up his price and pressure other teams/players to make a move with the Cubs? Again, it’s possible.

The truth is known only to a select few, but that doesn’t preclude us from thinking plainly and logically.

By all indications, including Theo’s own words, the Cubs are looking to build for the future. They want to compete in 2012, if possible, but not at the expense of “the future.” Does signing Prince Fielder make sense within that universe? Sure – if he’ll take a shorter-term deal. Does trading for Anthony Rizzo make sense in that universe? Absolutely.

To my mind, the Cubs have a preference out of those two, but it may not be a simple black and white. Fielder for five years may be preferred over Rizzo at a steep trade price. Rizzo as part of a large deal that stocks the team with young pitchers may be preferred over Fielder at six years. To suggest that the truth is as simple as “X is merely a smokescreen for Y” is, to me, both naive and inexact.

I see no reason why the Cubs could not be legitimately interested in, and pursuing, both options simultaneously. Whichever options slides into their acceptable range – Fielder accepts fewer years than he wants, or the Padres accept less for Rizzo (or a larger deal becomes available) – the Cubs will take it.

And if neither falls into that range, they’ll move on to something else.

Without knowing what the other offseason plans are, and what the real offers are, it’s hard to say whether I’d prefer Fielder, Rizzo, or something else. I can see scenarios where I’d greatly prefer Fielder (short-term deal, adding pitching, adding another bat). I can see scenarios where I’d greatly prefer Rizzo (dealing away multiple pieces, stocking up for a run in 2013 and beyond). And, I can see scenarios where neither is an attractive option at the prices being asked.

So much gray.

  • MoneyBoy

    Absolutely brilliant Brent !!!!

    • deej34

      GOOD NEWS OF THE DAY!!

      John Grabow signs with the Dodgers!! I think we all knew there was no way in hell that this over-priced, under performing %*&^#@ was going to come back to town… but I will sleep better knowing he’s officially someone else’s problem.

      Bullet worthy….? maybe. Ecstatic comment worthy…? You bet!

      • Fishin Phil

        Only thing that would have made it better would have been him signing with the Red Sawks.

        Thanks for the good news!

  • http://cubbiekingdom.wordpress.com hansman1982

    I think as of Friday morning, Hoyer and McLeod probably knew the Padres were wanting to pull the trigger on the Latos deal but were hesitant to “block” Rizzo (obviously, there would be a market for Rizzo regardless of the Cubs) so I think the comments made by Sveum on Friday were designed to throw out to the Padres that the Cubs weren’t hell bent on Fielder and would be interested in Rizzo while simultaneously increasing their leverage on Fielder.

  • john

    Cubs lack Power. Barney 1 Castro 10+ Stewart 10+ Byrd 5+ Dejesus 2 Soto 10+ SORIANO? 20+ (56?) 1ST? (Need K. Johnson Beltran Fielder 60+)

  • Lou

    I think it’s going to be one option (Fielder) or the other (Rizzo). Both options are dicey though, especially with Boras being involved in Fielder negotiations. If Garza would interest the Padres (purely for the purpose of the Pads flipping him), it got me to thinking “then how much confidence exactly do the Padres have in the Cubs’ prospects alone in a trade for Rizzo?” The Cubs would be asking the Padres to take Garza to flip him in the hopes that they would get the haul the Cubs maybe couldn’t for him. As an aside, I don’t how pleased the Cubs execs would be in seeing the Padres get that haul. One thing’s clear–Theo clearly understands this team lacks the necessary power in this lineup to compete now and going forward.

  • Gcheezpuff

    I am not a huge fan of the Cubs signing Fielder. I just don’t think the team as a whole is 1 or 2 impact players away. I’d much rather see them focus on prospects like Rizzo and cheap veteran stop gaps they could potentially trade at the deadline. This team can realistic compete in 2 or 3 years with the right moves, but based on pitching alone and what is realistic via trade and available via FA, I just don’t see a chance of building a legit Rotation before then. It’s tough because Chicago is a major market so not fielding a competitive team on 2012 will make some fans angry, but I’d be happy seeing a clear rebuilding effort and hopefully be entertained enough watching guys like Castro continue to develop.

  • Rancelot

    I believe if DaFino (the private investigator from The Big Lebowski) were here, he might say this to Theo and Jed: “Let me tell ya something – I dig your work. Playing one side against the other, in bed with everybody – just fabulous stuff.”

  • john

    Scratch Johnson add Beckham

  • tjtrigo

    Good stuff, Brett.  I would be happy with either assuming the front office is reading BN: short contract for Fielder or a top pitching prospect (or two) with Rizzo.

    I agree, too, that the Cubs need another bat, even with Fielder.  Who would the other bat be and where would he/she (trying to be PC) play?  LF? 2B?  I am assuming this would come from another trade.

  • john

    Pitchers are always taken in the top ten. Position players especially can’t miss ones are rare. So, your theory about prospects is muffled. Also many high priced prospects are passed on in the draft.

  • North Side Irish

    Kind of torn on this issue…acquiring Rizzo gives the Cubs the kind of young offensive player their system hasn’t seen in quite some time. But as a season ticket holder who has been taking huge losses the past few seasons, I want to see them sign Fielder. I know this is taking a short-term view of things, but I do feel like the fanbase could use something to get excited about.

    Trading Garza for Rizzo and other prospects basically signals that the Cubs are giving up on 2012 and 2013. Plus, with their payroll currently in the mid-$90M range, if the Cubs don’t sign Fielder or Darvish, then there really isn’t much else left to spend the money on. And if the Cubs choose to spend $30M less than they did last season while raising the price of my season tickets, I’m not going to be happy.

    Sign Fielder, keep Garza, and sign two SPs for the back of the rotation like Maholm/Saunders/Pineiro and I think they’d be improved over last season and capable of winning 80+ games. With Dempster/Zambrano/Byrd coming off the books next season, the Cubs would have another $30M to spend improving the rotation and maybe 2B or LF. They would then be adding to the building blocks in place with Fielder/Garza/Castro and hopefully Jackson/Cashner.

    Obviously I’m spending someone else’s money in this scenario, but I hate the idea of trading a SP we know is good for a couple of prospects who are supposed to be good two years from now. Especially when they can sign a 1B who we already know is good and have reason to believe will be good two years from now as well.

    Basically, I’m having a hard time balancing the idea of building through the farm system with the idea of not being able to sell my season tickets the next two seasons.

    • ctmcwilli

      Having never been a season ticket holder I guess I don’t understand. You buy season tickets in the hopes of making money by selling your seats? I’m honestly not trolling here…isn’t the reason most people buy season tickets so that they can go to the games themselves??? Please enlighten me.

      I like the rest of your reasoning however. I think they make great sense.

      • North Side Irish

        Sorry…I guess that didn’t come across quite right. I can’t make it to 81 games, so I go to as many as I can and try to get my money back for the others. But nobody has wanted to buy tickets the past few seasons, nobody wants to go to the games anymore. Even had to sell my Cubs-White Sox tickets for less than face value last season…that one really hurt.

        Definitely not a money maker, but it was a shock when I couldn’t find people who wanted to go to weekend games in the summer.

      • cls

        I think what “North Side Irish” is saying, is that there are 81 home games, and it’s VERY hard to go to all of them. With a poor product on the field, it’s tough to unload the tickets you can’t use and they get wasted (you flush money down the toilet). I am a new season ticket holder this year, and yes, I want to go to as many games as I can, and sell tickets when I can’t. This is easier when the team is good, of course. But personally, I’m not looking to “make a profit” by doing this, and I imagine most season ticket holders aren’t either. They are just looking to get back their money on games they can’t see.

        • ctmcwilli

          Gotcha….yeah I know its alot of games. Makes sense if I’d have thought about it.

          Thanks for explaining and not flaming me for my ignorance. Much appreciated!

        • MoneyBoy

          Season ticket holder since ’88.  We have a group of 11 for my 8 seats.   Everybody gets 2 or 3 games a month.

          Irish – Z, Demp & Bryd come to about $38.5mm … if we could sign Fielder for 5 yrs with options/buyouts … whatever, sign a couple short term contracts for the kind of pitchers you mentioned, then the Cubs would be in a position where Fielder’s contract would be a big “ouch” for this year only.

          On pricing – I just checked the 2011 and 2012 Season Ticket Fact sheet – basically, all the tickets stayed within a few dollars of last year … the bleachers went down 15%.

          There has been some minor movement with the 40 man roster and a few trims in the lower minors … I believe there is a PLAN … we just don’t know what it is right now as these guys are very professional and keep details to themselves.

          @ ctmcwilli – when times are good the tickets are easy to offload to brokers.  My brother sold his entire season ticket block for 2x face.   Last few years have been a bloodbath for brokers.

          • North Side Irish

            Don’t know what the fact sheets say, but my invoice for 2012 is more than my invoice for 2011. that’s all I was basing it on.

            I didn’t do the math on the contracts, but I’m glad to hear it’s more than I expected. I’m sure some of that will go towards raises for other players, but it’s still a nice chunk of change to spend.

            Consider yourself lucky you’ve got people to split your tickets with…we haven’t found anyone wanting to that kind of money, let alone 10 more!

            • MoneyBoy

              For what it’s worth, as currently constituted, here’s the 2013 breakdown:

              Baker, Byrd, Marshall – FAs

              DeWitt (2), Soto (3), Stewart (3), Cashner (1), Garza (4), Russell (1) and Wells (2) arbs.

              Believe it or not – the Cubs are currently committed to less than $40mm (which includes Soriano).

              • Cubs 10

                Geeeeez, the last time I checked, I was 108,328 in line for season tickets….maybe my great great grandkids will get ‘em.

                • MoneyBoy

                  So why not try to connect with North Side Irish and buy tickets from him.

                  One of our members was on that waiting list and was thrilled to be *part* of a group like mine.

                • http://cubbiekingdom.wordpress.com hansman1982

                  30K and change. Granted, I still need about 10 years to go by until I can actually afford season tickets, but nice to know I am ahead of others. They really need a $25 annual fee to weed out the dead numbers.

                  • MoneyBoy

                    Hansman – my brother was at the open house for people looking to move and/or looking to buy season tix … there may be LOTS more openings than you think … ask Brett for my email … I’ll send you to my Cub rep

  • jandersonjr81

    So basicly you told us nothing. LMAO. I’D prefer Rizzo. If we trade Garza.

  • CubFanBob

    I cant see why we cant get Rizzo with other pieces other than Garza. I thought I read somewhere the Pads were asking about one of our middle relievers a few weeks back. I would pull the string on Rizzo and go to war with Pena or Lahair for this year at 1b. Try our best to be competitive in a weak division and if not there by the trade deadline unload and bring up  the Rizzo’s, Vitters and Jackson’s of triple AAA for seasoning for 2013.

    • Bric

      I think Brett reported that the Pads had some interest in James Russell. I’d imagine he’s the first name most teams that need bullpen help would ask about, knowing the price on Marshall would be way too steep.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        Yes, Russell was a name that came up (though not from any of my sources – that one, I believe, was from Levine). He’s certainly got value – cheap, young, and was very, very effective last year (as a reliever).

  • Wilbur

    Pretty good summary of a dynamic situation with any of several likely outcomes in play.

    Situations like this you don’t even tell your wife what you’re doing until you’ve done it. Can’t give away an inch of bargaining position.

    • TWC

      “Situations like this you don’t even tell your wife what you’re doing until you’ve done it. Can’t give away an inch of bargaining position.”

      Sage advice, Wilbur, applicable in all situations.

  • Cheryl

    We don’t hear too much about the Cubs pursuing pitching. It is probable that Darvish won’t be a Cub according to the national media. If he isn’t, what’s on the horizon on pitching? Any rumors in that area?

    • Lou

      Paul Malholm.

      • Bric

        Not a bad alternative if he’s healthy. He’ll be way cheaper and have more wins than Darvish this year. And he knows the NL central hitters.

  • Hawkeyegrad

    There is one other potential component at play here that I thought seemed feasible. I can’t remember if I saw it here or somewhere else but somebody mentioned that there was a rumored agreement with Pena/Boras that Pena agreed to decline arbitration and the Cubs would promise to resign him for a 1 year deal if he could not find a multiple year offer somewhere else. The Cubs get the draft pick if he goes somewhere else and Pena gets the comfort of shopping himself with a backstop in place.

    If the rumor has any legs, the Cubs must of felt there was a multi year landing ground for Pena and that it would not derail their plan if they brought him back for another year. However, it would hamper their ability to sign Prince until they knew Pena had a landing spot. The only way this works from Boras’ perspective is if the Cubs were not serious players with Albert or Prince and they told Boras he could use them as leverage while providing a backstop to Pena. I think it is an interesting theory.

    • cls

      I read something along these lines too. Not sure if it was backed by a credible source or not, but it was a logical theory for sure.

    • Toosh

      It wouldn’t surprise me if Pena didn’t sign until after Fielder.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      The main reason I don’t buy it: everyone expected Pena to not sign until after Pujols and Fielder had already signed. Pena agreeing to decline arbitration in this scenario certainly helps Boras (because he can use the Cubs to help him bump up Fielder’s price), but it does nothing to help the Cubs, or Pena. The Cubs get no compensation if they ultimately re-sign Pena.

      Creative theory, but, even if I accept that these kind of shenanigans go on, it doesn’t make sense for the Cubs or for Pena.

      • Hawkeyegrad

        Brett…you have to make a few assumptions to understand how this theory helps Pena and the Cubs:

        1) Pena is uncertain that there is a multi year deal out there
        2) The Cubs would rather have the supplemental draft pick but would have been OK with Pena accepting arbitration
        3) the Cubs had little interest in Albert and Prince

        If they cut the deal, Pena can shop for a multi year deal without regretting passing on arbitration and the Cubs have a shot at getting the draft pick they would prefer over Pena on a 1 year deal. If Pena can not find a multi year deal both parties are no worse off had Pena accepted arbitration in the first place.

  • Oswego Chris

    One thing that no one has really said, and maybe some of you will disagree with…as much as “we” knowledgable Cub fans are excited about the new regime…the Cubs could use Fielder just to put buts in the seats..last year’s no shows and poor secondary market for attendance….especially considering that if you started the season as is your payroll would be slashed by roughly 35 million…

  • john

    Olney just tweeted Texas may be Fav because Bluejays in on Latos. So, if Texas is in on Garza what’s that say?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      That Olney point is a total non-starter. Trying to acquire a good, 24-year-old, cost-controlled starting pitcher is proof the Rays aren’t adding a 25-year-old stud pitcher? Come on, Buster. Think before you tweet. Why would the Jays not want both?

  • Jeff

    Here’s an interesting theory:

    There will be no Cub movement till Fielder signs. Why?

    Maybe they truly do not want to go the years and the money and prefer to go the Rizzo route.

    However, they need to keep up the facade that they are actually interested in Fielder so they can help steer him out of the Central division to a much nicer destination like Toronto or Texas.

  • http://Bleachernation Ramy16

    I said before.. I don’t want Fielder… Would rather retain Pena and His GLOVE!!! He saved Castro’s butt so many times by digging ball out of the dirt that Fielder just can’t do! I would take Pena’s .225 30 hrs and 80-90 rbi and the ability to save Runs too!! We should save our money and build a nice rotation..trading Garza is just down right stupid!! Build around him and Castro… I understand you have to trade pieces to get pieces but do it smart!! Trading your best pitcher to do so is a bone head of a move!! Padres don’t have to many pieces to trade other than Rizzo after that it’s slim pickings

  • Morgan

    Yea, get Rizzo, and keep Garza, we can sure get Rizzo without giving up Garza, I say Vitters and Soto and another for Rizzo and Grandal, Then trade for Beckham and Carlos Quentin

  • CubFanBob

    Beckham would nice. But you know K.W would bend the cubs over before throwing him away to the North side. Last thing KW would want is his rush to the majors mishandled cant miss all star stud finally getting it all together on the north side.

    • JulioZuleta

      Beckham’s are a dime a dozen these days. What do you call a utility infielder that is the same age as Gordon Beckham with equal, if not slightly better career numbers???

      Blake Dewitt

  • 2much2say

    New tag formerly “john”

  • 2much2say

    formerly “john”

  • 2much2say

    Pena is perfect fallback guy. Patient and short term

  • EQ76

    To me it’s as simple as this.. Fielder for 5-6 years or make the trade for Rizzo.. Fielder won’t cost us Garza and/or all the prospects that Rizzo would.

    Would it be crazy to entertain a mega deal that netted us Headley and Rizzo??? If we sent Garza and some prospects?

  • 2much2say

    Choice will be Fielder or Pena and Rizzo

  • http://bleachernation ferris

    whats all this about rizzo didnt lehair have as much if not more power in aaa…….and actually was better at the big league level…….fielder makes sence because hes 27 and a stud bat from the left side….dejesus 15 or so hr…stewart in a full season avg. 20 plus homers….so its not like no one can hit for power but who ever hits in front of fielder is gonna see good pitches…weve got roughly 35-40 mil to work with depending on other deals..we can build for the future and compete now it doesnt have to be one or the other.

    • hardtop

      whoa dude, reel it in. the kool-aid hasn’t been mixed and you are drinking it by the gallon ;)
      stewart hit 20+ home runs once, in denver. i hope he has a good year, but 20+ guaranteed home runs is crack pipe material. if the jesus has a bounce back year, he is maybe good for 10 to 15 (max, not +). but in the lead off spot, and the way these 32 year-olds historically “bounce back”, im going 12 narrowly make it into the basket.

      lahair is older than fielder. pro AAA guy. one year stop gap at best, not part of the team when they are built to make a run.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      The extreme age difference between Rizzo and LaHair (7 years) is the primary reason for seeing a distinction between what LaHair did in AAA last year, and what Rizzo did.

  • Cubs8ball

    Brent, I think there needs to be an article published about Theo & Co.’s Red Sox transaction history. Furthermore, compare some of the “smokescreen”, close to the vest rumors that were going on at the time, which ones turned out true, which one’s fell through, and which transactions came out of nowhere. Your thoughts??

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I think that would be an interesting read, but overwhelmingly difficult to research and draft – particularly the smokescreen part. There are transaction histories out there on the web, so that part is easy enough to grab.

      I can say this: the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford about a day or two after Theo saying the team wasn’t close to making any moves, and after many rumors that the Red Sox were not seriously pursuing Crawford. That’s, of course, just one example.

      • MoneyBoy

        Brett … Isn’t the feeling around baseball that both the Lackey and Crawford moves were orchestrated and/or foisted upon Theo by Lucchino and Henry and that, among other things, was a prominent driver in him leaving?

        I’m taking into account the hiring of Valentine – who, it is alleged, was not Cherington’s choice.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          There are rumors to that effect, of course denied by all parties involved.

  • ty

    There is plenty of articles on Theo*s transaction history and I just quickly added up five hundred million dollars worth of really bad contracts. At the same time there were some terrific short gap pickups and most of his trades were commendable. Boston has two world series probably due to his ability to find fillers. If he is going to protect his reputation he will have real trepidation about any long term contracts for awhile.

  • ferrets_bueller

    I think they’re simply exploring every option.

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