Lukewarm Stove: Cubs Rotation and Bullpen, Trade Possibilities, Fowler, More

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Lukewarm Stove: Cubs Rotation and Bullpen, Trade Possibilities, Fowler, More

Chicago Cubs

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Earlier this morning, I greeted Brett with an exuberant text message regarding how excited I am for the upcoming offseason.

Unlike literally every offseason since the winter of 1908-1909, there is almost no pressure on the front office to deliver a winner.

And as fans, we can (for once), just enjoy having the best team in baseball right now, and feel fine about whatever gambles the front office make.

For at least one year, it’s all gravy, baby.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that we won’t have hopes, opinions, second-guesses, and ideas of our own, but the weight coming off our collective shoulders has been so measurable, so obvious. The Cubs have won the World Series, now go back at it and do it again. Take a risk, trade a player, sign a reliever …. whatever you want to do.

The Cubs front office has a ton of flexibility and the trust of every single Cubs fan in Chicago. That should make for an exciting offseason, with some potentially unforeseen moves.

  • More specifically, those unforeseen moves are likely to come on the starting pitcher front. As Buster Olney writes at ESPN, the Chicago Cubs’ lineup and core of position players can be together for a very long time, but their rotation has a lot less longevity. After the 2017 season, the Cubs will be left with just Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester – two great pieces, sure – but 60% of the rotation will be vacant (Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are gone after next season, Jason Hammel’s option was declined). There are some internal options like Mike Montgomery, but it’s still not clear if he will emerge as a starter out of Spring Training or stick in the bullpen (where he has been quite good). So then, the Cubs’ quest to build a dynasty will begin with their decisions in the rotation.
  • Also at ESPN, Jerry Crasnick checks in on the hot stove, with several impending questions to various MLB executives across baseball. One of the most Cub relevant topics surrounds the trio of free-agent closers (Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, and Mark Melancon), available for just money. Most executives seem to believe Jansen will be the best value (production and cost), but Melancon does have the ability to cost a whole lot less, and Jansen will be tied to draft pick compensation. With questions surrounding both Hector Rondon and, to a lesser extent, Pedro Strop, the Cubs might be wise to spend some of that World Series cash in the bullpen. For what it’s worth, Jon Heyman has heard that the Cubs might target Jansen in the offseason. Separately, execs do not believe the Indians will trade Andrew Miller in the offseason, think Edwin Encarnacion is the best available slugger, and much more.
  • With as weak as the free agent market is for starting pitchers, the trade market might once again explode with options. Ken Rosenthal has a list of the top 10 trade targets this offseason, and two of them are starters Chris Sale and Chris Archer. Sale is currently under control for three more seasons and just $38 million, and would obviously be a boost to every single rotation in baseball, but we’ve heard countless times that the Sox will simply not trade him to the North Side. Archer (a former Chicago Cub) just delivered his third straight 3.0+ WAR season, but it was an admittedly underwhelming year (compared to expectations). After posting a 3.23/2.90 ERA/FIP in 2015, he posted just a 4.02/3.81 ERA/FIP in 2016. He did just turn 28 and is on a very favorable contract, so I struggle to see the Rays parting with him at something of a valley in his overall value. The 2017 trade deadline, however, is another story.
  • Rosenthal also mentions Andrew McCutchen (Pirates), Joey Votto (Reds), Ryan Braun (Brewers), and Jhonny Peralta (Cardinals) as likely trade possibilities. If every single one of those players left the NL Central, I would be very happy. [Brett: And then you’d see each of those teams re-stocking, and you’d wonder if you’d made a mistake in your desires.]
  • At Today’s Knuckleball, Jon Heyman discusses various league notes, including the presumptive availability of Jorge Soler over the offseason. From my perspective, he’s the most obvious piece the Cubs might be willing to discuss, but then again he’s shown such monstrous abilities when he is healthy (which he hasn’t been, thus depressing his value right now). I’m not so sure the Cubs will aggressively shop him. But if each of Kyle Schwarber, Javy Baez, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, and Jorge Soler are going to get significant playing time (and that says nothing of Albert Almora Jr.), something’s going to give.
  • The second base/outfield alignment is quite clearly the biggest positional question mark heading into the 2016-2017 offseason for the Cubs. More specifically, will Baez stick at second like he did in the postseason, or will Zobrist return to the position he came to Chicago to play? If he does, what does that mean for Schwarber, Heyward and Soler in the outfield? Heyward might finally head out to center like he was planning on last season, but so much of this depends on how good we think Baez will actually be. If he’s the guy he was from the NLDS and NLCS, then it becomes easier; if not, well, a whole bunch of options emerge.
  • And, of course, if Dexter Fowler returns, everything would be different. Still, the most likely scenario is that Fowler rejects the Cubs’ qualifying offer and finally lands that long-term deal he was looking for last season. According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Mets might be a team interested in such a deal. With Yoenis Cespedes opting out of his deal (and seeking a long-term contract of his own), the Mets might have the need and money to land Fowler. But they won’t be alone. The Blue Jays (according to Shi Davidi) are thought to be a potential landing place for Fowler as well, given their needs atop the lineup and in the outfield. They also had the second lowest platoon advantage at the dish last year, so the switch-hitting Fowler’s might be a big boost.
  • My instinct is that Fowler gets something in the 4-5 year range worth $15-18 million per year, but we were so off on his market last season that it’s hard to discern (last year’s market was vastly different, too). Although I would love to have Fowler back, I think the Cubs are unlikely to top his market, and could save the money (to spend elsewhere), given the number of other options in the outfield.
  • At the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo wonders whether the Cubs might try to keep Aroldis Chapman around, but I’m not sure I see it. I do think they’ll make a pass at one of the three closers, or at least work the trade market, but I’m not sure Chapman will be the guy.
  • At the Tampa Bay Times, Marc Topkin writes that the Rays will be open to everything to improve over the offseason, including a number of their starting pitchers. Matt Moore (a rumored Cubs target in the past) is no longer with them, but Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, Alex Cobb, and others are thought to be available. The Cubs have been tied to Odorizzi a lot in the past, and every Cubs fan covets Archer, but it’s not quite clear what it’ll take to pry either of them away from the Rays.
  • Similarly, Tigers GM Al Avila has claimed that changes will be coming this offseason with respect to the way the Tigers assemble their roster. Too often, he claims, the Tigers have spent above their means. They are going to try to lean down and get younger, while staying competitive. It’s not a rebuild, from the sounds of it, but it’s fair to wonder if some of their quality veterans will be available. Their rotation is full of probably over-priced, but formerly dominant starters like Justin Verlander (5.2 fWAR this year, for what it’s worth), Jordan Zimmermann, and Anibal Sanchez. Their direction is extremely unclear (and this is complete speculation), but if one or more of those pitchers became available, if the Cubs hadn’t already acquired a younger controllable starter, and if the Cubs saw something they liked/they could fix, they might just take a gamble.
  • The starting pitching trade market is going to be so tough this offseason – thanks to the weak free agent market – that taking on salary (something the Cubs could theoretically afford to do), might be their best way to get a quality starter.

Brett Taylor contributed to this post.

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami