The Chicago Cubs figure to be fairly active in free agency this offseason, so it’s worth taking a look at some of the players who could be of interest to the team.
These players present possible fits for the Cubs, at a range of potential costs and talent levels.
Performance in 2017
So far, we’ve focused exclusively on free agent pitchers, but the Cubs do have needs beyond the rotation and bullpen.
For example, with Jon Jay headed out in free agency, and spots available on the bench, you could argue that finding a quality veteran presence who can play all over the outfield and offer a solid bench off the bat would be a nice addition.
So here’s a look at a potential fourth outfielder type in Curtis Granderson:
It’s pretty hard to look at these peripherals and not feel good about Granderson’s immediate future. He’s just got such a modern-day profile: High walk rate, very few grounders, tons of fly balls, below-average soft contact, and above-average hard contact. In a juiced ball era, that’s exactly what you like to see.
If you’re wondering why his overall production was just 5% better than average, though, I sorta have two answers for you. First, that .228 BABIP is WELL below his .292 career line and given that he was better on the base paths this past season than either 2015 or 2016, I’m not sure it’s because he “lost a step.”
And second, he actually went on a dominant stretch midseason. In the 354 plate appearances from May 1st to August 31st, Granderson slashed .243/.370/.548 with 22 home runs and a 16.1% walk rate. That’s good for a 140 wRC+, which is seven percent better than what Anthony Rizzo posted this season (133 wRC+).
He’s still got it, at least in a part-time capacity.
Performance Before 2017
But I say “still,” because Granderson’s been around for a while. Next season will mark his 15th year in the Major Leagues, while his 7,540 plate appearances represent the eighth most chances at the plate among active players.
Although Granderson’s peak came between 2007-2011 (29.6 fWAR), he’s just wrapped up an impressive three-year stretch (9.8 WAR), including a 5+ WAR season in 2015.
The good news is that last season, Granderson was basically the guy he’s always been. And that’s an OK outfield defender, with a great walk rate, slightly above-average strikeout rate, plenty of power, a low average, good on-base skills, and good base-running ability. He’s probably not going to be a middle-of-the-order bat for the Cubs, but he’s far from a liability at the dish.
Projection for 2018 and Beyond
Indeed, the Steamer projections for next season predict that he’ll repeat his 2017 success as an above average overall hitter (105 wRC+). His walk rate figures to go down a bit (12.5), but remain above average, while his strikeout rate drops a bit further.
More importantly, even at 36 years old, Steamer thinks most of the power is staying (.201 ISO, .438 SLG, 14 HRs. One issue, however, is that they’re projecting just a half-season’s worth of games and plate appearances. Granderson has played in at least 147 games/season in each of the past four years, but every healthy day over 35 (in baseball-life) is a lucky one.
Of course, if Granderson winds up on a team like the Cubs, where he’d be serving in a complementary role, his playing time would be reduced, and perhaps that would be best for his health anyway.
Possible Contract/Existing Rumors
Granderson didn’t make the cut as one of the top free agents at any of our previous free agent projections (FanRag, MLB Trade Rumors, FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus). Fortunately, that means he should probably be pretty affordable.
There are not many indications out there on what he might be looking for, but given what you’ll learn in the next section, I would be surprised if he was looking for anything more than a 1-2 year deal worth something like $7-10M annually.
As we’ve discussed, Granderson’s been healthy over the past few years, so aside from his age, there’s no real reason to think he’ll suddenly fall apart. HOWEVER, there was a point last season when Granderson thought 2017 might be his final stint in the Majors. He’s since decided to keep playing, but that’s certainly a consideration for his signing team as they look beyond 2018.
Also of note: because Granderson was traded from the Mets to the Dodgers mid-season, he could not be attached to draft pick compensation this winter.
Fit for Cubs
At the highest level, the Cubs could probably use another back-up outfielder to take over the role filled by Jon Jay last season (there’s always a chance at a reunion with Jay, of course).
Although Granderson would offer a lot less defensively than Jay, he might offer more at the plate, especially in the power department. But I wonder if that’s really what this Cubs lineup needs.
Jon Jay wasn’t a perfect hitter, but his skillset complemented this Cubs team (which is already loaded with power … and strikeouts) well. Obviously, if Granderson was capable of being the guy he was mid-season, then you throw everything out the window, but I’m not sure that’s a lock.
And there’s the issue of his splits.
In 2017, Granderson was pretty great against right-handed pitching (114 wRC+), but struggled against lefties quite a bit (76 wRC+). Given the existing outfield presence of lefties Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber (plus Ben Zobrist, who’s also much better from the left side of the plate), I’m not sure there’s a perfect spot for Granderson.
And that’s somewhat of a bummer, because he’ll be affordable, is from the Chicago-land area, is considered among the best clubhouse leaders/veterans in all of baseball, and, perhaps most importantly, figures to have some significant production left to offer.
As the roster stands right now, I don’t see the exact fit, but things can change quickly. Don’t count out Granderson just yet.