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Before and After Signing: A Decade in the Cubs’ Experience with Free Agency

Analysis and Commentary

jason heyward cubsAttacking free agency aggressively and emerging triumphantly is far from an exact science. And few things represent that more than what the Cubs have experienced in the last 10 years in the free agent market.

The Cubs’ class of 2015 has the potential to be one of the team’s more productive classes, especially if the trio of Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey live up to preseason projections from Steamer, ZiPS and others.

But did you ever wonder how the Cubs’ previous free agent signings fared immediately before and after signing with the Cubs?

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Using ESPN’s MLB Free Agent tracker as a guide, charted below is every free agent the Cubs signed to a Major League deal in each of the last 10 offseasons. ESPN’s free agent tracker is a nifty tool that allows you to dive into what transpired in a given year’s free agent market, even though it only goes back to 2006.

Digging into the names and the deals, with some thoughts and a full chart below:

  • Heyward is the best everyday player to sign with the Cubs in free agency since Alfonso Soriano left the Nationals to join the Cubs on an eight-year deal that began with the 2007 season.
  • Heyward’s addition also marks the second straight season in which the Cubs have signed a player who accumulated at least 5-WAR the season before signing with the Cubs. Jon Lester’s signing in 2014 was the team’s best free agent signing since re-signing Ryan Dempster (4.7 fWAR in 2008) for the 2009 season after a brief dalliance in free agency.
  • Lester’s class actually provided more fWAR in 2015 (8.8) than it did the year before (7.2). In fact, one of the better players of that class is someone who has been a part of the last two classes. Jason Hammel went from a 0.6 fWAR player to 1.7 in 2014 while spending only half a year with the team. He then jumped to 2.4 fWAR in his first full season with the Cubs in 2015.

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  • The gold standard of the Cubs free agents endeavors was the class of 2006, which helped propel the team to a division title in 2007. That group was worth 20.3 fWAR, despite Wade Miller’s -0.3 and Henry Blanco’s -0.6. Mark DeRosa actually saw a dip in his fWAR which went from 2.9 to 2.5 in his first year with the Cubs. The team’s three highest-paid free agents saw significant improvements from 2006 to 2007. Aramis Ramirez re-signed with the team and went from 3.7 to 4.8, Ted Lilly nearly doubled his fWAR as it jumped from 2.1 to 3.8 and Alfonso Soriano went from 5.4 to 6.7. Even Jason Marquis pulled himself up from a -0.5 fWAR to 1.4 in 2007.

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  • The least productive class naturally featured Milton Bradley, as the class of 2008, which was led by Ryan Dempster’s 3.6 fWAR) accumulated 2.9 after combining for 10.6 fWAR the year before. Aaron Miles (-1.4 fWAR) was the biggest detriment to the Cubs’ success. Miles also saw the single biggest drop-off in fWAR from one year to the next. Miles posted a 1.6 fWAR with the Cardinals before entering free agency.
  • The youngest class of Cubs free agents came in 2012, with an average age of 29.7. That group (which featured Edwin Jackson, Kyuji Fujikawa, Scott Feldman, Scott Baker, Nate Schierholtz and Dioner Navarro) accumulated 7.3 fWAR with the Cubs one year after putting together a 2.9 number with their previous teams.

CUBS FREE AGENT SIGNINGS SINCE 2006:

YEAR PLAYER AGE fWAR Next year
2015 Heyward 26 6.0 5.1*
Zobrist 35 2.1 2.9*
Lackey 36 3.6 2.6*
Cahill 28 0.1 0.2*
TOTAL 31.3 11.8 10.8*
2014 Lester 31 5.5 5.0
Hammel 32 1.7 2.4
Ross 37 0.3 0.1
Motte 32 -0.6 0.5
Denorfia 32 0.4 0.8
Coke 32 -0.1 0.0
TOTAL 32.7 7.2 8.8
2013 Hammel 31 0.6 1.7
Veras 33 0.7 -0.2
Wright 29 0.1 0.2
TOTAL 31.0 1.4 1.7
2012 Jackson 29 2.1 2.0
Fujikawa 32 0.2
Feldman 30 2.1 2.0
Baker 31 -0.1 -0.9
Schierholtz 29 0.5 1.9
Stewart 28 0.1 DNP
Navarro 29 0.3 2.1
TOTAL 29.7 2.9 7.3
2011 DeJesus 32 1.7 1.2
Maholm 30 1.9 2.0
Wood 35 0.4 -0.3
Johnson 35 0.3 1.1
TOTAL 33.0 4.3 4.0
2010 Pena 33 1.0 2.5
Wood 34 0.1 0.4
TOTAL 33.5 1.1 2.9
2009 Byrd 32 1.3 4.0
Grabow 31 0.2 -0.4
Nady 31 -0.1 -0.7
TOTAL 31.3 1.4 2.9
2008 Dempster 32 4.7 3.6
Bradley 31 4.2 0.7
Miles 32 1.6 -1.4
Gathright 28 0.2 -0.2
Bako 37 -0.1 DNP
TOTAL 32.0 10.6 2.9
2007 Wood 31 0.4 2.1
Lieber 38 1.4 DNP
TOTAL 34.5 1.8 2.1
2006 Soriano 31 5.4 6.7
Ramirez 29 3.7 4.8
Lilly 31 2.1 3.8
Marquis 28 -0.5 1.4
DeRosa 32 2.9 2.5
Blanco 35 0.7 -0.6
Floyd 34 0.2 0.7
Wood 30 -0.1 0.4
Miller 30 -0.1 -0.3
Ward 32 0.3 0.9
TOTAL 31.2 14.6 20.3

Key: *denotes Steamer 2016 projections; fWAR-accumulated in season before signing with Cubs; Next Year-fWAR in player’s first year with Cubs


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Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.

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