The Marlins started imploding earlier this year, just a few months after a bunch of bright and shiny additions failed to (1) bring fans to the ballpark, or (2) bring wins to the record book. And, in a continuation of that implosion, they are expected to sell of as many of their shiny additions as they can this offseason.
Does that plan impact the Cubs, who will be looking to pick up, among other things, some starting pitching? Sources tell Bruce Levine that the Marlins plan to move their higher salaried starting pitchers – Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle in particular – and Levine sees a fit with the Cubs. From Bruce, over at ESPNChicago:
Johnson’s contract appears to fit into the Cubs’ short-term plans. The 28-year-old pitcher has one year remaining on a long-term contract at $ 13.750 million for 2013. The Marlins will look for younger prospects and as much payroll relief they can get in each deal they make.
The Cubs have $50 million coming off their 2012 payroll commitments. It appears they will be willing to add contracts such as Johnson’s due to the flexibility of his current status. He will be eligible for free agency after 2013.
Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are looking for quality pitchers that they can either sign to long-term deals or flip before the July 31 trading deadline for other potential pitching prospects.
The sources indicated that the Marlins would approach the Cubs and other teams with the payroll flexibility to take on most of the money owed on the contracts for Buehrle and Johnson.
The connection there is relatively thin (it amounts to little more than “the Cubs need pitchers, the Marlins will probably be selling pitchers, and the Cubs have money”), but opens up a discussion about the Cubs’ ability to/interest in acquiring veteran pitchers via trade, rather than signing them as free agents.
On the one hand, guys like Buehrle and Johnson are more attractive than a number of the lesser tier starting pitchers on the free agent market. On the other hand, those lesser tier starting pitchers cost only money. While the Marlins are looking to save salary (Buehrle’s contract, in particular, is scary: it pays him $11 million in 2013, $18 million in 2014, and $19 million in 2015), they’ll also be looking to pick up some quality prospects in the process.
The real problem there for the Cubs is not an inability to put together a package capable of landing one of those two guys, nor is it the inability to take on their salaries. The problem is that the Cubs would be competing in the trade market with teams much closer to competitiveness – and thus much more interested in adding veteran starters – who could be willing to part with a steep package of prospects. To which team is Buehrle a more compelling addition: a team two+ years off from realistic competitiveness, or a team just on the cusp (like, say, the O’s), who just needs another pitcher? It’s undoubtedly the latter, and in a scarce market, they would be willing to pay the most.
Are the Cubs going to outbid the rest of the market in prospects (the Cubs aren’t going to be the only team willing to take on the salary) just so that they can try and get more prospects for these guys at the deadline? That doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, unless the Cubs are going to try and “go for it” in 2013, and would sell these guys off only if the plan flops. Either way, there are probably better avenues.
That all said, I do think the Cubs will consider trade alternatives for picking up pitching. I also think that, while their preference will be for under-30 types with multiple years of control, you can’t always get that – especially if you’re looking for a front half of the rotation type. Buehrle and Johnson? I’m not sure they’re the best fits thanks to the expected price tag, as well as the age (Buehrle turns 34 next year) and control (Johnson is a free agent after 2013). Buehrle is coming off one his his standard 200+ inning, sub-4.00 ERA seasons, and there’s no reason to suspect an immediate drop-off is looming. Johnson, on the other hand, is always an injury risk. And, although he was healthy in 2012, he wasn’t his usual dominant self (104 ERA+, K-rate and B-rate worst since his rookie year). Although you’d love to see the Cubs take a chance on that upside, every team is thinking that way.
So, in the end, while I like the idea of this discussion, I’m not sure I see a particular fit with the Marlins on the pitching side.
(By the way, who couldn’t see the Marlins’ plan to dump Buehrle at the first chance after signing him to an insanely backloaded contract last year? The same will be happening with Jose Reyes, by the way.)