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jacoby ellsburySo much of the Chicago Cubs’ immediate future is tied up in the Wrigley Field renovation project and the upcoming renegotiation of the team’s TV rights on the WGN portion of games (about half the games), a deal that expires after the 2014 season. That’s because so much of the team’s future is tied to how much money they can spend to assist in the rebuilding process, and accelerate/prolong their window of competitiveness.

Good news on that front from Dave Kaplan, who reports that he hears the Cubs do plan to be in on big name free agents this offseason, thanks in large part to the expected revenues that will soon be coming in. Without drilling down into the specifics of who is available in free agency this year, it is good to hear that the Cubs expect to spend. (And it’s good to hear it from Kaplan, who is well-sourced with respect to the Cubs’ front office, though on this one, he cites “several Major League sources, including an American League front office executive.” Perhaps Kaplan simply wanted to emphasize that he isn’t just sending out what the Cubs are telling him to send out. It’s largely academic, however: the Cubs know they probably shouldn’t be sending out the “we’re going to spend big money” message to fans at this point unless they intend to back it up.)

So, at a general level, I love what I’m hearing. Even without massively expanded revenues in 2014, the Cubs will have tremendous flexibility to spend, based simply on expiring contracts and payroll space. Good.

Once you drill down into the free agent class, however, it remains difficult to see how the Cubs will judiciously spend a whole lot of money. Robinson Cano is the big ticket item, but, even if he doesn’t re-sign with the Yankees, he’s going to be offered the moon and the stars by the Dodgers. It’ll be a deal that pays him huge money from ages 31 to 39, most likely – not the ideal window for a player. Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson are also intriguing positional options, but the guy Kaplan focuses his report on is center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Kaplan’s sources tell him the Cubs could have Ellsbury at the top of their wish list.

What kind of money can Ellsbury expect? It’s really going to depend on how the market develops for him. As one of the few premium position players on the market, it’s easy to expect that he’ll land a big deal. Then again, folks were talking about $100 million deals for Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn last year, too, and they settled for 4/$56M and 4/$48M, respectively. Draft pick compensation played a big role in those deals, and it could for Ellsbury, too, if he’s made a qualifying offer by the Red Sox after the season. If the Cubs have a protected first round pick (top ten), I could see them willing to part with their second round pick for the right free agent, especially if it was someone like Ellsbury on a deal like the Bourn/Swisher deals.

But would Ellsbury even receive a qualifying offer or a four-year deal?

It wasn’t too long ago that Ellsbury looked like a lock for a $100 million free agent deal (or extension). In 2011, at age 27, Ellsbury put up an MVP-caliber season, pairing huge offensive value with some of the best outfield defense in baseball. And then he fell back a bit in 2012 both in performance and health (a shoulder injury kept him out for more than half of the season), and the early returns in 2013 - .257/.311/.365 – haven’t been encouraging. Indeed, if his season continues as it has started, then the 2011 season starts to look like an extreme outlier, and Ellsbury looks like little more than a serviceable starter in center field, assuming his defense stays above average.

How much is that guy worth? How many years do you dedicate to him in center field, even if you are willing to spend? With no one immediately nipping at his heels, and the Cubs possibly replacing all three outfield positions in 2014, a three-year deal for Ellsbury would be no problem at all. Even four years could be solid, depending on the money. Longer than that and you risk Ellsbury becoming a drain financially, and a very expensive fourth outfielder by the time he’s in his mid-30s.

It will be interesting to see how Ellsbury’s season unfolds. I like the idea of the Cubs stepping up their spending in the offseason on reasonable, productive deals, but if Ellsbury is the biggest fish they target, it could be disappointing on a variety of levels.

  • Jason P

    The issue with discussing next years free agents right now is that you don’t know how guys will perform this year. But that said, I’d say no for Cano for the reason you mentioned ($), no for Granderson, and possibly for Choo and Ellsbury. It all depends on how high the bidding gets and how they perform this season.

    No matter what, though, no deals longer than 4 years for a guy who’s 29 or older (and essentially all free agents are, so ya)

  • http://Noclue SenorGato

    I’m about as interested in Carlos Beltran as I am Choo. Choo will be 32 next year and is no longer a good defensive OF. I won’t mind the salary with him but rather the years. 2-3 is all I’m interested in, and I think Beltran is still a skilled enough player to handle RF for 1-2 maaaaaybe 3 years more.

    Ellsbury definitely interests me more as a potential 5 tool CF, but obviously the focus will be that he’s only had one season with more than even 15 HRs. I think the speed/defense/average/approach make up for it and wouldn’t be surprised if he put up a couple 20+ HR seasons over the next 3-4 years.

    Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain kinda sorta interest me, but probably they are best off resigning Garza.

    If Cano hits then they should most definitely be in. True elites that hit FA have to be chased.

  • Die hard

    Would rather they wait til Soriano contract off books and that will allow for more time to see which of the kids in minors will make jump

  • Ivy Walls

    Wow, hot stove speculation seven to nine months out. Well what is really being said is that Brett Jackson is not an option. Though the think about Epstein and Hoyer is that they play the house odds on players, meaning more and competitors for a position until it is done.

    My other thought is that unless Castro really comes forward to be a genuine All Star he will be pushed by what is coming down the pipeline.

  • James

    It is really hard to talk about free-agents until the Cubs figure who will be traded at the all star break. I expect this year to be differnt then last year at the all star break. The Cubs should recieve a decent haul of players back in trades.

  • Cheryl

    The cubs may spend more on pitching, depending on who’s available as free agents. But the draft is even more intriguing. If there are good pitchers available next year would the cubs set their sites on position players this year? Their weakest positions are third base and catcher. I wouldn’t be surprised if they picked a third baseman with their second pick and there is the Georgia outfielder who many consider a five tool player. Both will probably be gone by the second round, but they could pick up a good prospect at catcher in that round. Does anyone know how strong the 2014 draft will be? If it is strong, in what area?

  • Rebuilding

    We might be looking at more than just a hot streak with Wood. This is 8 starts in a row now and he looks as confident as can be. The cutter he is throwing against righties has been really effective. His development as a legitimate 2/3 would make a huge difference as to who we target

    • praying the cubs get ready to win

      David Price, Garza, Shark and Wood in no particular order looks pretty good.

      I think the Cubs should trade one of their SP and an OF for a a top draft pick and a top minor leaguer at C or 3rd base say top 5 pick to decide if they want to land a SP, 3B and or Catcher and pick up 2 top picks even throw in our second pick if need be.

      What could we get for say Feldman and Barney in the way of a major league 2B?

      What could we get for say Feldman and Castillo in the way of a major league C?

      This is what we need, one orbtwo more pieces of the puzzle.

  • 5412

    Hi,

    I just used Longoria (type) player as an example. I think the Rays extended him. My point is there will be arbitration eligible players (David Price??) available where the Cubs will give up prospects for good younger players and then sign them like they did ARam.

    I would much prefer that type of spending spree as opposed to signing a guy until he is 37 or something.

    Regards,

    5412

  • Moe C

    As sad as this sounds I think the Cubs have said they will be big spenders in Free Agent cuz they know there really isnt a big player like Fielder Pujols Hamilton or that sort of player out there to constitute a big pay day. Ellsbury is good but I really dont think he is elite, maybe.if there was a Pedrioa out there but there isnt besides the obvious in Cano who is too old for what Epstein wants to do. Look for the cubs to continue to get players trying to rebound as they have in years past.

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