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To no one’s surprise, the Cubs’ offseason focus is expected to be pitching, pitching, Count Chocula, and more pitching.

That pitching will almost certainly not include top righty Zack Greinke, for a variety of reasons.

Among the reasons that Greinke and his lofty contract demands aren’t expected to be in the Cubs’ plans this offseason is because “the Cubs don’t consider a pitcher with a history of social-anxiety issues a good fit for the Chicago market.” That comes from Gordon Wittenmyer, and marks the first report stating explicitly what many have privately suspected about Greinke – namely that, money aside, he isn’t a good fit for the Cubs because of the social-anxiety issues. Then again, I can’t imagine those issues aren’t also prickled by playing, essentially, in Los Angeles, but the Angels are eager to try and re-sign him.

Even if you could ignore that possible issue (what do we really know about it, anyway?), consideration of (1) the market for starting pitchers, (2) Greinke’s expected demands, and (3) Greinke’s performance over the last few years should provide enough disincentive for the Cubs.

At the outset, it’s worth noting that the Cubs shouldn’t necessarily shy away from all big-time free agents simply because they do not expect to be competitive in 2013. The short version of that argument – which has been the subject of debates in the comments for some time now, and which will be the subject of a longer post later in the off-season – is that you’ve got to sign guys when they’re available. Given the shifting free agent landscape, thanks in large part to the new CBA, you can’t always “wait” to sign big free agents when you’re on the cusp of competitiveness. Sometimes, if a guy is the right fit for your plan long-term, you’ve got to strike when he’s there to be signed, even if it’s a year or two early.

But Zack Greinke isn’t that guy.

First, consider the market for starting pitchers this Winter. Although there are a number of modestly attractive names – Brandon McCarthy, Anibal Sanchez, Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, Shaun Marcum and others – each comes with a wart or two that prevent them from being considered among that upper tier of free agents. In fact, on the pitching side, Greinke probably stands alone as the only elite starting pitcher on the free agent market this Winter. Why is that a reason for the Cubs not to buy? Simple supply and demand. The winning bidder on a free agent is, almost by definition, going to have bid at the top of the market for a player they sign, but that “overpaying” action is even more pronounced when you’re talking about a “one of a kind” asset, which, this year, Greinke concededly is. But is he the kind of franchise-altering free agent that you go nuts on just because he’s the only guy on the market? No. He isn’t.

Second, and relatedly, those contract demands – man, they’re gonna be steep. Because of his unique status on the market this Winter, the soon-to-be-29-year-old is going to be looking at the extensions to Matt Cain (five additional years after 2012, $112.5 million in guaranteed cash) and Cole Hamels (six years and $144 million) as a starting point in his negotiations  While interested teams might say he’s no Cain or Hamels, Greinke will argue that those were mere extensions, given on favorable terms to the home-town team. Greinke, for that reason, could demand even more than those two got. And he might just get it. Over/under on years? 6.5, and I’ll take the over. Over/under on dollars? $150 million. Again, I’ll take the over. How attractive is he looking right now?

If he’s still looking good to you, perhaps you should look at his career numbers once again. His 114 ERA+ this year wasn’t even among the top 25 in baseball, and was his best season since his Cy Young effort in 2009. That 114 number is also his career mark, which is just 4 points better than free-agent-to-be Anibal Sanchez, who is the same age. Advanced stats are much kinder to Greinke – his FIP and WAR numbers are typically among the top 15 in baseball – but how many years have to pass before the disconnect between his advanced stats and standard stats raises a red flag? A quick comparison to Cain and Hamels – who are both also typically in the top 15 range in FIP and WAR – makes you wonder whether Greinke really belongs in that same discussion. He’s got them in Ks, but Cain and Hamels easily best him in ERA, ERA+, and WHIP. They have also been more consistent, and slightly more durable.

Am I saying I wouldn’t want Greinke on the Cubs? Absolutely not. If he wanted to sign for five years and $100 million, the Cubs would leap at that, and I’d be all for it. But eight years and $190 million? Given the performance, it’s hard to justify.

Concerns about social-anxiety issues, to the extent Greinke actually has any, are simply the final grain of rice on a scale that was already tipped far against signing him.

  • Dan

    No thanks to Greinke. But then who could the Cubs go after?
    (Please excuse my ignorance)

    • Southern Cub

      I’m obviously not Brett, However, I’ll do what I can to answer. Realistically, Brandon McCarthy (depending on his head injury) Shaun Marcum would be very attractive to the Cubs as SP. Also Edwin Jackson and Liriano will probably be considered but may be too costly in the end, we’ll see.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        This is going to be the subject of (an) upcoming post(s), but none of the semi-obvious free agent pitchers after Greinke would surprise me (except maybe Haren or Dempster) – McCarthy, Sanchez, Marcum, Santana, Jackson, Liriano, Villanueva, etc.

        While it isn’t a great year for top-end free agent pitching, it isn’t a terrible year for the kinds that the Cubs are likely to pursue (good but flawed, or bounce-back candidate types).

        • Northside Matt

          I know he had a pretty terrible 2012, but what about Jonathan Sanchez as a buy-low candidate? Decent 4th or 5th starter who pitched fairly well in SF. He turns 30 in November. It could be difficult with one left-hander already at the back-end, but Sanchez seems like the low-risk signing Theo & Jed are interested in.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            I don’t know, man – to me, Sanchez had one good year and a whole bunch of crap. It wasn’t just a down year for him in 2012 – he was bad in 2011, too. He was good in 2010, but before that, he was all “potential.”

            There’s only one Sanchez on the market that I’d like to see the Cubs pursue.

            (Of course, if Sanchez can’t find a guaranteed deal, then what the hell – bring him to Spring Training.)

            • Drew7

              “to me, Sanchez had one good year and a whole bunch of crap. It wasn’t just a down year for him in 2012 – he was bad in 2011, too. He was good in 2010, but before that, he was all “potential.”

              Sounds awfully familiar – a recent Cubs 3B’man, perhaps? :)

              • SirCub

                To be fair. Hitters don’t tend to “lose it” quite as readily as pitchers, so I think the risk is lower. But yea, Stewart didn’t have the best track record.

                • Drew7

                  You’re right, but these guys didn’t “lose it” – they never “had it”.

                  • SirCub

                    In 2008-2010, Stewart had… something. Maybe not quite “it” but ” ‘something’ close to ‘it’ “.

                • DocPeterWimsey

                  Batters vary quite a bit depending upon the player and body “type.” Middle infielders often just fall off of the table in their early 30′s. A lot of big hairy-chested sluggers have gone from omnipotent to impotent in just a couple of seasons. (This is a real concern about Fielder.)

            • Northside Matt

              http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/what-went-wrong-with-jonathan-sanchez/

              I just caught this piece on fangraphs. If at his best he was effectively wild, then I agree, maybe this isn’t the guy for us.

              I’d love to have Anibal Sanchez. My only fear is that he’ll cost too much. The combination of low velocity and being a fly ball pitcher concern me about Marcum. Then again, Ted Lilly found a way to pitch effectively despite a similar profile.

        • johnny kelroy

          Brett,

          I heard a rumor last week that the Rays might be shopping David Price this winter. Any truth to that, and if so, I would have to think the would be the number one guy to go after for anyone. I would also have to think that he would fit into the Cubs long term plans as well.

          • http://worldseriesdreaming.com/ Rice Cube

            Trying to get David Price would pretty much re-decimate the farm system though.

            • Jeremy

              Doesn’t matter. Our farm system is all depth with little star power outside of our big three. If Price hits the market, you do what it takes to get him. He’s the type of pitcher we want to add to our team.

    • bails17

      http://sandiego.padres.mlb.com/team/player.jsp?player_id=445590#gameType='D'&sectionType=career&statType=2&season=2012&level='ALL

      This is a target right here. Lives 2 hrs from ChiTown. Wants to be closer to home. Had a great second half in San Diego.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        Why would the Padres trade him? First time arb-eligible in 2013.

        • bails17

          I am not sure that is correct Brett. I think he signed a one year contract this year. He has quite a bit of big league time and has pitched in Japan.

          • King Jeff

            He’s not arbitration eligible until after 2014. Regardless of how he was signed, he’s only got a little over 2 years of MLB service time, and hasn’t been to arbitration yet.

        • Webb

          I thought the Padres just gave things to the Cubs for free? Like executives and first basemen.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            Ha.

      • santo’s toupe

        if your going to partner up with the padres at least go after headley. He’d be the most likely guy that you could pry from the fryers that could help immediately. i’d much rather build the offense and defense in the infield than add to our already unimpressive collection of middle to bottom end starters.

  • Kyle

    If they really buy the social anxiety thing, fine. I can live with that.

    If they are shying away because of cost? It’s going to be a loooong time before we have an elite pitcher, then, because that’s simply what they are going to cost from now on and we have no one in our minors who could reasonably be hoped to turn into one. With teams locking up players sooner and such, don’t expect one free agent elite SP per offseason to be unusual.

    How many years should we ignore the disconnect between ERA and peripherals? More than 2.

    It’s all moot to argue though. It’s almost certain that in 2013, Greinke will be pitching for another MLB team and probably doing a lot to help them win. The Cubs will be sitting on a pretty pile of financial flexibility and a lot of inferior pitchers.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I count three straight years with the disconnect, but I agree with the mootness.

      • Kyle

        I don’t even know if I’d count this year as an anomalous year for performance vs. peripherals.

        ERA+ isn’t a great measurement for a number of reasons, and Greinke is underrated for two of them: 1) he pitches a ton of innings and 2) He gave up an unusually low number of UER.

      • terencem

        They need all the money to sign both Verlander and King Felix for 2015.

  • http://bleachernation.com lou brock lives

    I would not sign any pitcher older than 26 to a contract longer than 4 years. It is logical to pinpoint a few pitchers in the 29 – 34 year old range & offer them 2 or 3 year deals for approximately $45 – $ 50 million each. Pitchers like Lohse, Jackson, or Santana would fit nicely with Samardzija – Wood – & Garza if they decide to keep him.
    I would also consider AJ Pierzynski on a 2 year $25 million dollar deal to catch & bat fifth while he tutors Castillo to take over in 2 years as the full time catcher.
    The Cubs could afford this easily & it should make them quite competitive also over the next couple of years while their low minor league stars develop.
    Cubs lineup would look like this : DeJesus RF Barney 2B, Rizzo 1B, Soriano LF, Pierzynski C,Castro SS, Olt* 3B, & Campana CF – Pitcher
    I would trade Vogelbach, Clevenger, & Marmol (Cubs pay 6 Million of his salary) to Texas .for Olt.

    • Drew7

      1) “I would not sign any pitcher older than 26 to a contract longer than 4 years”

      - Really? Nobody older than 26? Way too extreme & too many scenarios for that to make sense.

      2) “I would also consider AJ Pierzynski on a 2 year $25 million dollar deal to catch & bat fifth while he tutors Castillo to take over in 2 years as the full time catcher.”

      Castillo has shown he can hit enough. If you think he needs work on calling a game/framing pitches, etc., AJ is not the guy to look to. Also, you do realize Castillo will be 26 shortly after opening day, right?

      3) “I would trade Vogelbach, Clevenger, & Marmol (Cubs pay 6 Million of his salary) to Texas .for Olt.”

      – The only outcome of that proposal? Texas puts you on the “do not call-list”.

  • DocPeterWimsey

    I would trade Vogelbach, Clevenger, & Marmol (Cubs pay 6 Million of his salary) to Texas .for Olt.

    If your mind control powers are that great, then why not get them to toss in Profar, too?

    • Ogyu

      Yea, we need a Jedi GM: “These are the prospects you’ve been looking for…”

      • Myles

        We’re only a letter away!

        • Ogyu

          “You don’t want to trade the Cubs any death sticks. You want to go home and re-evaluate your farm system.”

          • TWC

            Seriously? A TPM reference? I’m am gravely disappointed in you, Ogyu.

            • http://worldseriesdreaming.com/ Rice Cube

              That was actually AOTC. Your powers have grown weak, old man.

            • TWC

              Actually, that’s an AotC reference, isn’t it. Marginally better. Barely.

              • Ogyu

                I must be allowed to speak.

                • TWC

                  You weak-minded fool!

                  • Ogyu

                    Nevertheless, you will trade Olt and Profar to me. You can either profit by this . . . or be destroyed.

  • Martin

    Given the fact that, now that Rizzo and Castro are up, the only real impact Minor Leaguers the Cubs have are 3-4 years from being great major leaguers (if they develop as we think they will)–they may be up in 2, but aren’t going to be more than league average for the first year or so.

    That means that the Cubs should, if they want to be at all competitive in the coming 3-4 years, not worry about total dollars in a contract and focus more on years. If they can overpay some of these FA pitchers (such as McCarthy, Marcum, et. al.) on shorter (3 year) deals, they have to consider it. Furthermore, they could do the same thing with position player FAs, because those position players aren’t going to be blocking someone for the near future.

    There are gaping holes on this team that won’t be filled internally for 3-4 years. The question is whether the Cubs are willing to be as bad as they were this year for those 3-4 years, or overpay FAs on short-term deals to fill the gap and maybe sneak into a Wild Card game or two.

    • BD

      I agree with the basic idea here, especially when it comes to pitching. Not only is internal help far away from being ready, but the pitchers are much farther behind than the position players. Even with Greinke- if you could offer him enough money to take a 3 or 4 year contract, I would be interested in doing that. But if not, oh well.

  • JR

    I think the Cubs should sign Greinke for a 1 yr deal for $45 million. Then turn around and trade him while paying his entire salary over that period. A full year of free Greinke should get a decent return. Right? And could he could turn around next year and get the longterm 20 mill a year deal. We got the payroll room, I am all for these types of shenanigans..

    • JR

      I am only kidding.. Kind of..

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        I’ll take that “kind of” and make it a “totally” – you can’t trade free agents you just signed until mid-June.

        But it would make for an interesting discussion: how much are prospects in trade worth in salary? In other words, how much is it worth oversigning free agents for, knowing that you’re just going to trade them and eat the salary?

        • JR

          I forgot about the June thing. But actually I am pretty serious. We got the payroll why not completely over pay for a guy like Upton and give him a 1 yr. 22mill. deal when everyone else is offering 4 yrs at 12 mill per. What better way to get some good impact arms then sign these guys and flip them at the deadline. If I am Upton I think I would take the 1 yr at 22 mill and wait a year to get the longterm deal, regardless if I am only trade bait.

          • JR

            Hi Kansas CIty we have the money you have the prospects lets make a deal.

          • hansman1982

            A lot of guys aren’t going to want to risk injury for a one-year deal (unless you are talking big time money) or on a non-contending team.

  • Bleacher Creature

    What good would a supposedly “elite” pitcher like Greinke do the Cubs over the next three seasons? Make a 65 win club a 69 win club?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      The argument would be something like, “no, he wouldn’t put the Cubs over the top in 2013, but what about 2014 and 2015? The Cubs could be good by then, especially with Greinke’s help.”

  • Ogyu

    If the Cubs sign Greinke and Hamilton, they could start a bitchin’ group therapy session…

  • Brandon

    What about Peavy? If the sox buy him out(instead of paying $22 mil) doesn’t that make him a f.a.? If his arm is healthy I’d rather give him 4 or 5 years over Grienke.

  • Rizzofanclub

    I love the road the cubs are going when it comes to building a team. I hope they stay to the plan but still sign enough ppl that were not the laughing stock of baseball. Heres what I got: Sign 2 of the pitchers that Brett mentioned, sign Garza to a 5 yr 80 million deal, sign Melky on a 2 year deal, sign Eric Chavez along with Stewart to offer a good platoon or competition for 3rd. That team could surprise some ppl and if they are not in it at the break would offer a lot of nice pieces to sell off. Now if being a GM was just that easy that all I had to say was sign this guy and they automatically sign here. As for Soriano If the cubs get a solid 10th ranked prospect of a decent system and 5 million a year then you have to move him. If you don’t get that just hold onto him. If you do move him sign Ludwick or throw a Lahair/Sappelt platoon in left. I would be very excited for that team next season.

  • Ben

    The Cubs really should target Jackson or Marcum, as those 2 seem like they will be in less demand than some of the others. Then grab a guy like Scott Baker, and that would give us an interesting start to a staff:

    Garza, Shark, Wood, Marcum/Jackson, Baker/5th guy

    I’d be willing to overpay for a guy like Baker (give him 3-5 million guaranteed, plus a option year) because we have money, and could reap some benefits if the upside pays off.

    • terencem

      I get the feeling, from everything available, that Baker will re-sign with the Twins. Unfortunately for us.

  • fortyonenorth

    I don’t buy the social anxiety excuse. From that perspective, how is it any different playing in front of 25,000 fans in Milwaukee vs. 35,000 in Chicago. It’s major league baseball for God’s sake – it’s not like he’s playing in Pawtuckett. I think the Cubs are just trotting out the anxiety horse so that fans see a downside with which they can sympathize–other than, say, salary which won’t earn much sympathy.

    • Stinky Pete

      That makes a lot of sense. As soon as we trot out any condition, fans put that player into their own little box that fits what they know about the condition.

  • RebuildMe

    I like the idea of signing Erivin Santana and Francisco Liriano since both have not pitched in the NL; which means the Cubs could benefit from the change in leagues. AL is a lot tougher than the NL.

    I also like signing a guy like Keppinger and Tori Hunter. Both has solid years but with Hunter on the downturn of his career and will be looking for a starting job which will be hard to come by next season. Hence why the Cubs would be a fit. Keppinger would be an ideal bench player.

    Bullpen is a need and I like Brett Myers and Sean Burnett.

    Cubs also need an everyday 3rd baseman and Youkilis is the man for the job. Another fall back option would be Rolen.

    Lots of holes for the Cubs and not worth spending cash of big free agents to fill them in a rebuilding mood. Lots of players with low pay and high upside out there.

    Other players to look at if the players above don’t make their way to Wrigley are Sizemore, Saunders, Capps, Feldman, Ludwick, and Suzuki. All would be lower cost options for the Cubs although Saunders and Ludwick may start pricing their way out for the Cubs.

    • Carew

      oh my god…if Torii Hunter finished his career as a cub, my life would be made

  • Big Joe

    Edwin Jackson, although talented, has played for a lot of teams. I’ve heard of clubhouse/character issues with him. No thanks.

  • skidrow

    Bob Brenly is calling the game on tbs right now.

    • fortyonenorth

      I posted about this earlier today. I was surprised to hear him – didn’t realize he and the Cubbies had an open marriage.

  • http://worldseriesdreaming.com/ Rice Cube

    I actually made a case for Greinke *shameless self plug* here…

    http://worldseriesdreaming.com/2012/10/04/early-free-agent-fantasy-the-case-for-zack-greinke/

    From reading that Gordo piece (something I rarely do because sometimes it makes me break things) it sounds like he’s stating opinion as fact re: the social anxiety issues. I agree with everything else you outlined in regards to the ridiculous amount of money they’d likely need to blow to get Greinke and also the potential ability to acquire guys like Sanchez, Edwin Jackson etc. However I feel like free agents may be reticient to just be rental-and-bait players for the Cubs unless they are on the rebound from a bad year, so that might eliminate the folks I just mentioned. Hard to say at this point.

    • http://www.hookersorcake.com Jade

      Yeah, it seems many of the newspaper men in Chicago have less integrity than the bloggers. “…the Cubs don’t consider a pitcher with a history of social-anxiety issues a good fit for the Chicago market.” No source listed, not even the ubiquitous unnamed team sources. Its shoddy, cheap, tabloid journalism that a highschool newspaper wouldn’t allow. Besides Greinke hasn’t had any issues in over 6 years, since he was a 22 year old kid.
      If the price is right I think the Cubs would sign Greinke and even to a long contract. Problem is he wanted out of KC because they were rebuilding (well that and its Kansas City) and he’ll likely command a ridiculous contract.

  • bob

    The pitching definitely sucks, but so does the batting average. There are a lot of HOLES TO FILL!!!

  • Fastball

    Bob did the play offs last year as well

  • #23

    I would really like to see them take a chance on Liriano. Vizcaino and Liriano as part of the starting staff in 2014 could be a real good addition to Shark, Garza, and Wood (providing Liriano can put it all together). It would be worth the risk, imo.

  • daveyrosello

    I live in KC, saw plenty of Greinke. He’s too inconsistent to be considered an elite pitcher IMO. And yes, the anxiety issues are very real. Not a wise use of $$ to pursue Greinke.

    And to whoever mentioned Jonathan Sanchez, please, put down the pipe. That guy is all kinds of bad on all kinds of levels. Just awful.

    Marcum, Anibel Sanchez, McCarthy et al., those are all great options though. Here’s another: why not bring back Paul Maholm? I get the feeling the Braves aren’t going to re-sign him.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Pretty hard to see the Braves not wanting Maholm for $6.5 million (team option), but I suppose it’s possible, given their flush-ness with pitching, and penny-pinching ways. If he comes back on the market, I’d definitely be into re-signing him, though I wonder if he’d not be thrilled to come back for rumor/trade/whatever round two.

  • W_Francisco

    What about James Shields?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Would cost quite the mint in prospects. The Rays are going to trade a pitcher or two, that much is certain.

      • Cubfanbob

        Wonder if there is any trade scenario where we coud get archer back

  • fortyonenorth

    “why not bring back Paul Maholm? I get the feeling the Braves aren’t going to re-sign him”

    He’s under control through 2013, isn’t he? Wasn’t that part of his appeal, i.e. that he wasn’t strictly a ‘rental’?

  • BluBlud

    My Free Agent Wish List

    Melky Cabrera
    Kevin Youkilis
    Brandon League
    Kyle Lohse
    Edwin Jackson

  • Roland Perrelli

    With the lack of pitching depth above high A ball I can see us go after Appel if our goal is to compete in 2014. If that is our goal we need more pitching studs Grienke would qualify. But what ever they do pitching wise will tell us their timeline plan. If they scrap the bottom of the barrel their window is probably 2015. If they go after better pitching free agents could be 2014.

  • Stevie B

    If we sign Melky Cabrera, I’ll shoot myself in the face with a sawed off shotgun.

  • Timmy

    Nice analysis as usual. Even 5 years 100 mil sounds like a lot for a team that’s going to remain awful for the next 5 years, and maybe beyond. we’re just now drafting people that we hope will be diamonds in the rough in 2-3 years. It’s looking bleak for the Cubs and I don’t see Greinke as a good bandaid with fans that are going to grow more and more rabid as the Cubs pile up years of _planned_ losses with $80 ticket prices.

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