Early Free Agency Tiers Provide a Lot of Options and Question for the Chicago Cubs

For reasons we have discussed at length over the last few months, it is reasonable to EXPECT the Chicago Cubs to be very active in free agency this offseason. No, you cannot guarantee that Target X will definitely sign with your team, but the Cubs could identify enough high-impact targets, and make enough dollars available, that they should be able to make notable upgrades to a team that has the chance of being an on-paper NL Central contender come March.

Honestly, I don’t think anything is entirely off the table, even if there are a handful of free agents whose pursuit would really surprise me (for example, Aaron Judge getting 10 years from the Cubs doesn’t make a TON of sense to me, given the roster, the farm system, and the other areas where big impact spending could take place (plus, I just don’t love the risk of his huge body aging well into his 30s)).

So, when Jeff Passan, working with a group of other ESPN evaluators, drops his early free agency tiers, I’m paying attention to almost every name on the list as a possible Cubs target. The Cubs aren’t actually going to pursue every nine-figure free agent, but they will have the ability to do so. And, again, I think they are at a stage where they’ve got some quality regulars on the roster, a ton of useful depth, but not necessarily a lot of tip-top impact types in the upper minors or ready to go in the big leagues. That seems like a good spot to be thinking about high-dollar impact investments, spread across, say, last offseason (Seiya Suzuki and Marcus Stroman) and the next two.

Anyway, ESPN’s early ranking tiers have just four free agents in the very top tier, and I’ll call one of them a mild surprise: Aaron Judge, Nolan Arenado, Jacob deGrom, Trea Turner.

For me, the surprise isn’t so much those four names in the abstract, but the fact that only Turner gets the inclusion among the shortstops. Carlos Correa (citing a step back in defense), Xander Bogaerts (a couple years older than Correa), and Dansby Swanson (limited track record at this elite level) all wind up in Tier Two for various reasons. For Passan, then, he’s got Turner clearly atop the shortstop group.

Turner (recently connected to the Cubs!), 29, is putting together another strong season in the field and at the plate (.305/.350/.488/134 wRC+), though I personally remain a little concerned about how much of his production is floated by his elite speed, which is likely to see a decline sooner rather than later – his .347 BABIP is heavily speed-based, and his .183 ISO (lowest in four years) is not necessarily the product of huge power as it is his hustle speed (consider the mediocre 7.9% barrel rate). Those are somewhat nitpicky, mind you, because he also hits a lot of line drives and doesn’t strike out, and it’s not like his speed doesn’t significantly boost his value, even if it declined a bit from here. It’s not hard to imagine a world where the larger bases and pick-off limits boost it further next year. I can understand why Passan and Co. put him in Tier One.

The other Tier Two free agents, joining the shortstops: Justin Verlander, Carlos Rodon, Edwin Diaz, Koudai Senga, and Chris Bassitt. The Cubs have been connected to Rodon and Senga this week, and have had a connection to Verlander in the past (TBD whether a guy at his age is going to be willing to roll the dice on the Cubs winning right away in 2023).

Noticeably absent from Tier Two? Willson Contreras, who is in Tier Three with guys like Brandon Nimmo, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Bell, Adam Wainwright, and Jose Abreu, among others. The question remains: will Contreras and his agent find the open market strong enough right away to confidently reject the Qualifying Offer from the Cubs, and then sign a big deal out there despite being attached to draft pick compensation?

Tiers Four (46) and Five (42) are where the sheer number of free agents explode, but you do still see a ton of interesting options for a team like the Cubs, who are going to be in the market for sure-fire impact, yes, but also complementary/upside/reclamation types.

Stray names that jumped out at me in a “oh yeah, that guy is going to be a free agent, too, hmmmm” kind of way: Carlos Carrasco, Sean Manaea, Ross Stripling, Noah Syndergaard, Taijuan Walker, Christian Vazquez, Kevin Kiermaier, David Peralta, Zack Britton.

I don’t know that Joey Gallo or Michael Conforto are the right move for the Cubs, but I do think their free agencies and attempted reclamations in 2023 will be interesting to follow.

Check out the full list of free agents and tiers over at ESPN, and start formulating those offseason wish lists. Like I said, I think it’s going to be completely reasonable to have an aggressive list. We’ve been very good boys and girls.

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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