It’s been my experience that the offseason is largely marked by a division in moves: pre-Christmas, post-Christmas. Obviously there’s nothing inherent about that particular holiday that divides baseball moves, but it just so happens to fall about half-way through the offseason, and, because many players like to spend a worry-free holiday with their families, most of the free agent signings are done by Christmas.
So it was this year, with the majority of free agent signings – including those by the Cubs – probably completed by now. Only a handful of quality free agents remain – Michael Bourn, Kyle Lohse, Shaun Marcum, Adam LaRoche, and Rafael Soriano among them. The Cubs aren’t terribly likely to be in on any of those guys, but, hey, they’ve surprised us before.
But the post-Christmas/pre-Spring Training period is often fertile ground for trades, as teams have figured out what they’re going to be able to do with money, only, and now turn to potentially giving up assets to acquire others. On the trade front, I do expect the Cubs to be active, both as buyers and sellers. Whether they can actually finalize any deals – it takes a couple willing parties – remains to be seen.
Where things stand ..
- The Bullpen: the Cubs have re-signed Shawn Camp, added Kyuji Fujikawa, and whiffed on Mike Adams and Jason Grilli. They’ve been connected to J.P. Howell, who remains a free agent. Given the Grilli and Adams pursuits (which came after the Fujikawa deal), I’d think the Cubs would like to add another veteran reliever, though the quality options have dwindled dramatically. Howell, a lefty, might be the best fit, given that the bullpen currently features only one lefty (James Russell). Travis Wood, Brooks Raley or Chris Rusin could wind up being that other lefty, depending on how things shake out.
- The Outfield: The Cubs very much would like to add another outfielder, potentially a righty who can play in center or right field, spelling presumed center fielder David DeJesus, and presumed right fielder Nate Schierholtz. I’m of the mind, though, that the Cubs wouldn’t hate the idea of picking up a starting-caliber outfielder, which would afford them the flexibility to shop DeJesus (and Alfonso Soriano), and/or to use Schierholtz in a fourth outfielder role. Of course, at least in free agency, there aren’t too many quality starting outfielders left, except for perhaps …
- Michael Bourn: Generally speaking, I still don’t love Bourn for the Cubs. While I do think they’ve got to sign free agents when they’re available, and I also think they’ve got an advantage over some other bidders by virtue of having a protected first round pick, I’m just not sure Bourn is a great fit. As a 30-year-old “speed” guy, it’s fair to say the best years of whatever deal he signs will come in the first one/two/three. How useful is he to the Cubs over that stretch? Well, it’s debatable. It all comes down to the contract, really. If the fact that he’s tied to draft pick compensation really beats his price down such that he’s limited to four-year offers in the $50 to $60 million range, I suppose I could see some value there, even for the Cubs. I bet he gets five years and a bunch more money, though.
- The 40-Man Roster: At last check, the Cubs’ 40-man roster stood at 39, after some serious roster maneuvering over the last couple weeks, which saw them lose Jeff Beliveau and Sandy Rosario on waivers, and outright Gerardo Concepcion, while officially adding Ian Stewart and Nate Schierholtz. Carlos Villanueva and Edwin Jackson still need to be added officially, so more moves are on the way.
- Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol: The Cubs could trade any number of players this offseason – no one is safe. But, of the possible trade candidates, Soriano and Marmol remain the most likely. The outfield market, particularly right-handed power bats, has really dried up, and Soriano (at two years and $10 million) has to look really attractive to a team like the Phillies or the Rays, among others. The Red Sox just traded for a guy very similar to Marmol, so maybe the Cubs can find a taker for Marmol, too, if they make the money aspect palatable. Otherwise, the Cubs will break camp with both Soriano and Marmol, and see what happens in the first half.
- Utility Infielder: With Ian Stewart recovering from wrist surgery and Luis Valbuena a lefty, the Cubs would probably like to have a right-handed hitter on the roster who is capable of playing at third (and everywhere else on the infield, if you had your druthers). Someone in the mold of Jeff Baker would be ideal, if not Baker himself – sure, he was terrible after the Cubs dealt him in August, but, before that, he was crushing lefty pitching, as he often does.