It remains a fair assumption about the 2013 Chicago Cubs that the club will not feature any big-time free agent signings. By “big-time,” of course, I mean “big money.” Instead, we expect that the Cubs will continue to pursue value signings in the Scott Baker vein, which is a fair approach given the state of the rebuild.
But, when speaking about that Scott Baker signing, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein did leave the door open for a bigger name signing.
“We’re pursuing pitchers across the spectrum,” Epstein told the media, per Cubs.com. “[We're looking at] some guys who might be classified as buy low, there might even be buy-high guys, some multi-year deals, some trades. We’re looking for pitchers who can step in and improve our rotation. If there are sound investments out there, whether they’re big or small, we’ll pursue them and try to sign them.”
Now, is Theo just being Theo, and covering all of his bases? Maybe. This front office isn’t one to rule anything out, so, even if it’s extremely unlikely, they probably aren’t going to say, “We absolutely are not going to sign any pitchers who require a contract longer than two years.”
It is also possible that the Cubs really will consider a “buy-high” pitcher. Who might that pitcher be? Well, in a relatively shallow free agent pool at that level, the only guys who really qualify are Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, and … Hiroki Kuroda? Kyle Lohse? Edwin Jackson? I have trouble coming up with names beyond that, and most of those guys you can rule out for a variety of reasons (I’ve written quite a bit about why I don’t think Greinke is a fit, Kuroda appears to be limiting his options to New York, Boston, and Japan, and Kyle Lohse is an older guy you wouldn’t expect the Cubs to pursue).
So that leaves guys like Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson. The latter, I’d argue, based largely on his career 98 ERA+ (it’s 106 in the last four seasons, which includes his best, by far, in 2009) and his 98 ERA+ in 2012, isn’t really a “buy-high” guy. He’s probably a bit better than the middle tier (given his age and peripherals), but it’s hard to argue that he’s in the same group with Greinke, Sanchez, and Lohse (if the latter is even included). (If you go to WAR, Jackson looks a lot better, but I’m choosing not to focus on Jackson today …. )
I suppose I’m just trying to steer the conversation toward Sanchez, about whom I’ve said positive things before. Is he a one or a two? No. But he’s become a guy whose ERA+ is usually around 110, whose K/BB is usually around 3.00, and whose WAR has been around 4.00 each of the last two years. He’s also just 28, turning 29 in February.
Rumor has it Sanchez is looking for a six-year deal for $90 million or a seven-year deal for $100 million. Even if the Cubs are not expecting to be competitive in 2013, I think that former contract is one they would have to strongly consider for Sanchez.
That deal would give the Cubs Sanchez in his age 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, and 34 seasons. Is that really that long, or is 34 really that old? With the economics of the league changing every year, is $15 million per year really that much for a reliable number three with upside?
The Cubs have a dearth of pitching talent expected to be ready and available come 2014 and 2015, when the offensive core is going to be close to ready. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a pitcher like Sanchez in place when those young players are ready to compete?
Ultimately, I don’t think the Cubs are going to go all-out on Sanchez, Epstein’s quote notwithstanding. But I do hope they think about it, regardless of the plans for 2013. The final question is: would Sanchez be willing to sign with a clearly rebuilding team?