Given the relatively weak nature of the current free agent class, there has already been a ton of talk about the hugely impressive group coming after the 2018 season.
Because of how impressive that 2018-2019 group is, though, next year’s group – the players with contracts set to expire after the coming 2017 season – has been largely under-discussed.
Moreover, next offseason figures to be an especially important one for the Cubs, given the number of key-players set to hit the market.
For example, after the 2017 season, the Chicago Cubs could be losing Jake Arrieta, John Lackey, Wade Davis, Pedro Strop, and Miguel Montero. In other words, they’ll lose 40% of their rotation, their closer, their set-up man, and one of their regular catchers.
Because this time of year allows us leeway to explore our curiosities, I thought it would be worth checking in on the players that might be available to the Cubs after this coming season.
Using MLBTR’s free agent tool, you can peruse the group of players scheduled for free agency after this season. Immediately, you’ll note there is a relatively nice group of starting pitchers that could be available, and that is at least one part of the group that has begun to get some attention. Given the potential turnover in the rotation, the aging of Jon Lester, and the lack of upper-level impact prospect arms right now, this could be a very important group for the Cubs to consider. And they’re probably lucky for such a group to exist.
The full list can be found here, but I’ll point out some of the more interesting names below (with their age as a free agent in parenthesis)
- Jake Arrieta (32)
- Alex Cobb (30)
- Yu Darvish (31)
- Danny Duffy (29)
- Marco Estrada (34)
- Jeremy Hellickson (31)
- Michael Pineda (29)
- Tyson Ross (31)
- Masahiro Tanaka (29)*
- Wei-Yin Chen (32)*
- Ian Kennedy (33)*
- Johnny Cueto (32)*
Those with an asterisk next to their names are players that are eligible to opt out of their contracts after next season (and it’s still unclear what sort of deal Tyson Ross will get, but it’s possible he will not be available (or already on the Cubs!)). It isn’t a guarantee that they will do so – especially with a very strong group of fellow starters – but it is a distinct possibility. In addition, there are a number of other players I’ve omitted – Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, etc. – with club options that are quite obviously going to be picked up.
Still, that’s a very interesting group, and the timing is good for the Cubs.
Who might the Cubs have interest in? Well, it’s almost impossible to know this far out, but the fact that there are so many quality options and such an obvious need makes this a particularly important discussion. (And, as a brief aside, the Cubs’ many young position players makes our focus on the starting pitcher free agents even more reasonable.)
The 2017-2018 free agent starting class looks nice though, doesn’t it? There’s a healthy mix of veteran stars (Jake Arrieta, Johnny Cueto, Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka), upside plays (Alex Cobb, Michael Pineda) and solid regulars (Danny Duffy, Wei-Yin Chen). You could very easily assemble half of a rotation from this group if you had the cash (and that’s not to mention any other pitchers who step up in 2017).
At FanGraphs, Craig Edwards wrote about the strong available starting pitchers arriving on the free agent market next offseason, and comes up with at least four potential aces (Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, and Johnny Cueto), four guys that could earn big bucks (and be really nice options) if they produce in 2017 (Ian Kennedy, Wei-Yin Chen, Michael Pineda, Danny Duffy), and upwards of 13 other solid back-end types. By collecting all of their 2016 data and their 2017 projections in one place, Edward’s article is a good resource to begin your free-agent hunting.
That said, the Cubs’ needs now and the Cubs’ needs at the end of next season might look entirely different. A trade here, an extension there, a breakout somewhere else, and suddenly everything’s entirely different. (Or an injury here, a terrible season there, and suddenly everything’s even more dire.)
There’s not much point, then, in speculating on whom the Cubs might target specifically (let alone what that player might cost), but it’s certainly helpful to be aware of the pieces that could be available.
Next offseason might feel a good ways away, but I assure you, the Cubs’ front office is already planning for it.