As of midnight ET, players officially were permitted to negotiate with new teams in free agency. The five days between the end of the World Series and that cut-off – the exclusive negotiating window for a player’s current team – almost never results in a deal being consummated, and that was the case again this year. So, then, everyone who automatically became a free agent the day after the World Series is still available for the snagging by every other team.
And that process started last night, as I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that various members of the Cubs’ front office – and other teams – were making calls to players and representatives as soon as that clock ticked over.
That doesn’t mean you should look for deals to be completed this week, or even in the next few weeks. The GM meetings begin on Monday, and, with the full opening of free agency, that means you’re going to see rumors tick up significantly. Just as last year, I suspect we’ll start to get a more clear picture of which free agents the Cubs are seriously pursuing within the next couple weeks.
Early guesses? And they’re just educated, general guesses, because I think getting too specific is a fool’s errand (even the Cubs front office, themselves, couldn’t tell you exactly how this offseason is going to play out):
I think the Cubs will give serious consideration to a David Price pursuit (he’s interested), but also some of the other top starters – Johnny Cueto? Jordan Zimmermann? – in tandem with a next tier arm – Jeff Samardzija? John Lackey? – which could wind up together being the same cost as Price. There will also definitely be some bullpen pursuits, though that market is not as robust this year. On the positional side, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some legs to those Alex Gordon rumors, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cubs explore a reunion with Dexter Fowler … but more seriously pursue a less-expensive deal with Denard Span. I think the Cubs will look into Ben Zobrist, too, but adding him could depend a great deal on whether they’re trading from the positional side to add an arm. That’s something else they’ll explore, which will impact the free agent pursuits.
In other words, you’re seeing it once again: the Cubs have so many possible, intertwining paths this offseason. What’s the first domino? I suspect, above all else, the preferred first move is getting a cost-controlled, younger, impact starter in a reasonable trade. If it becomes clear that won’t be able to be accomplished quickly, I think the Cubs figure out whether they’re going to go huge on a single player (Price?) or spread out their chips on multiple starters (Zimmermann and Samardzija?), and it might come down simply to which direction they feel nets the best overall value for the total guarantee, as well as the best possible impact over the next three years.
Pitchers are the priority this offseason, but the Cubs won’t sleep on the positional side. They’re going to add someone who can help in the outfield, and almost certainly specifically in center field. If they add a Gordon instead of trying to bring back Fowler, then they might have to rely on an internal, less-than-ideal option in center field. Otherwise, they could try to get Span on a one-year, prove-it deal, bring Austin Jackson back on the same, or could even bring in Zobrist and reshuffle deck on a game-by-game basis. That is all to say, the path to pitching is fairly clear: the Cubs need starters, and they can sign a couple free agents, and/or they can trade for a certain class of controlled arm. The positional path is less clear, because the Cubs could do a ton of shuffling, or they could simple bring in/back a center fielder (and a couple bench pieces) and be done with it. In the end, keeping it simple might be the best course of action.