Lukewarm Stove: Winter Meetings Eve, Cubs Needs, Axford, Barney, Samardzija, Papelbon, Kemp

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Lukewarm Stove: Winter Meetings Eve, Cubs Needs, Axford, Barney, Samardzija, Papelbon, Kemp

Chicago Cubs

lukewarm stoveExecutives, agents, players, and media are on their way to Orlando, Florida for this year’s Winter Meetings, which start tomorrow. Last week was crazy active, and, while this week probably won’t match it, the rumors will be all over the place. It’s still the Winter Meetings, after all. And, hey, a surprising Shin-Soo Choo pursuit could spice things up. Going into the meetings, no one saw the Cubs going after Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson last year, either …

  • Color me relieved by Cubs President Theo Epstein confirming that the outstanding needs for the team as the front office heads to Orlando include not only the bullpen, but also a starter and an outfielder (ESPNChicago). The starter isn’t really a surprise, since there’s an open spot in the rotation (ahead of Chris Rusin and Carlos Villanueva as depth), and since there’s a particular Japanese righty who might soon be available. The outfielder piece is what really relieves me, given that it would be plausible for the Cubs to decide to enter 2014 with Junior Lake in left, Ryan Sweeney in center, and Nate Schierholtz in right. Not that plausible = good. The Cubs don’t have many spots at which they can add a significant bat, which is what they need more than anything else (especially heading into 2015). Maybe that outfielder is Shin-Soo Choo. Maybe that’s a reach. (If the Cubs added Choo, Masahiro Tanaka, and John Axford, how quickly do folks change their tune about the Cubs’ approach? … that said, I’m still not sure that team projects as much more than a .500 team, and I’m not sure that’s realistic, even if each move makes sense in terms of The Plan.)
  • Jon Heyman also hears that the Cubs are in on free agent reliever John Axford, who is looking for an opportunity to close. He mentions the Orioles and Mariners, as well. I dug into Axford’s last two seasons and prospects for a turnaround here. You can expect that Axford’s agent will be burning up cell minutes this week.
  • Bruce Levine wonders if the Yankees could look at Darwin Barney as a possible platoon/late-inning guy at second base for the Yankees (I’d add that he could probably still play above average defensive shortstop). With Brendan Ryan and Kelly Johnson already in the fold, I don’t think I see it for them. Then again, Buster Olney says the Yankees probably will look to add an infielder by way of trade. If the did consider Barney, I doubt the Cubs would look for much in return, given that they’ll likely look to open up second base for either Javier Baez or Arismendy Alcantara over the next 12 months.
  • Shi Davidi writes that Jeff Samardzija is certain to remain under consideration by the Blue Jays as they look to pick up an arm. Nothing really new there, but it’s a local Toronto report, so I guess it’s additional smoke.
  • The Phillies really want to move Jonathan Papelbon, the Cubs need a closer, and the Cubs’ front office has familiarity with Papelbon from his Boston days. Perfect fit, right? Well, setting aside Papelbon’s contract, which pays him $26 million over the next two years (or $39 million over the next three years if he stays a closer and finishes a reasonable number of games), there’s the problem of Papelbon’s vanishing strikeout rate – it fell from the low 30% range (awesome) to the low 20% range last year (not great for an elite reliever). There’s also his velocity, which has declined from the mid-90s to the low-90s over the past few years. The question you have to ask is, if 33-year-old Papelbon were a free agent today, how much would you be willing to give him? Two years and $10 million or three years and $15 million, maybe? If the Phillies want to eat enough salary to make that happen – and don’t demand much of anything in the way of a return – then sure, you consider it. I don’t see much value there.
  • Something’s probably gonna give in the Dodgers’ outfield, and Matt Kemp’s agent thinks it could be a trade of his client. If so, here’s hoping Kemp winds up on a team that was otherwise considering Shin-Soo Choo. (If the Dodgers ate enough salary, as I’ve discussed before, I think Kemp would be an intriguing option for the Cubs (for some of the same reasons Choo would be).)

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.