Cubs: Looking forward to free agency

Sure, the World Series may not have even started yet, but as Cubs fans we need to do something to keep our minds off the fact that the Cardinals are still playing baseball.

So, why not take a look ahead to what could be a busy free agency period for the Northsiders.

While it’s true that the Cubs are still, even by the most optimistic estimations, at least another year away from seriously competing, this may be the year when Theo Epstein decides to begin piecing together the free agent element of the team.

What will Theo and company bring in to build around Rizzo?

Taking a look at what’s available, it’s (obviously) not nearly as good as last year, but that doesn’t mean there’s not quality talent to be had.

But, before we get into what’s available, let’s first look at what the Cubs need. Currently, the “long-term” pieces – those that the Cubs either expect or have the potential to build around – are as follows:

C- Wellington Castillo
1B- Anthony Rizzo
2B- Darwin Barney
SS- Starlin Castro
3B- Josh Vitters
CF- Brett Jackson

SP- Jeff Samardzija

Now, I can already hear some people grumbling. It may turn out that not every one of the Castillo/Vitters/Jackson trio turn out to be starter-caliber players. However, all three have high ceilings and – at least at this point in the team’s development – it’s worth giving them the opportunity.

Also, I know that there are other starters that might find their way into the “long-term” rotation, but Samardzija is probably the safest bet along those lines.

All of that said, I think it’s fair to say that the Cubs’ biggest weaknesses are at the corner outfield spots and in the starting rotation. Looking at the list of available players at those positions provides a few options. First, in the outfield:

Josh Hamilton: On the surface, this sounds great. Hamilton is an absolute beast at the plate and it sounds like he’s tired of life in Texas. Unfortunately, there are some serious issues when you look at his numbers more deeply. As it turns out, Hamilton is pretty terrible during the day.

In night games over the course of his career, Hamilton has hit a robust .318 AVG/.376 OBP/.579 SLG. But, during the day, his numbers take a steep nose dive due to what has been reported to be some kind of an eye condition. How bad are his daytime numbers? Really bad – .260/.326/.462. With the number of day games the Cubs play, adding Hamilton would be a colossal waste of money, so hopefully the Cubs have removed him from the list.

Sadly, after Hamilton, the list of outfielders is full of a whole lot of mediocrity. Michael Bourn is on the list, and he has his talents, but he’s not really a corner outfielder in my opinion. Delmon Young is there as well, but he probably won’t be worth the money he’ll cost after a strong playoff performance this year – particularly in the ALCS.

So, with not many worthwhile outfielders available, the next place to look is for starting pitchers. Here is where things get interesting.

Zack Greinke: Greinke is undoubtedly a top-tier pitcher in baseball, and at age 28, he’s just now hitting his prime. But, much like with Hamilton, there is some worry behind the scenes. Early in his career, Greinke had his share of personal problems that prohibited him from playing in a big city. It appears as though he has conquered those issues, but the Cubs must weigh that information against the King’s ransom he will probably earn in this market.

Dan Haren: Haren is 31, so possibly a little bit too old for what the Cubs are looking for and he does have a 2013 club option on his contract. But, he’s a phenomenal pitcher and with all the money the Angels threw at Albert Pujols last season, they may be interested in shedding some cash. It’s worth a look, at least.

Brandon McCarthy: This may be my favorite option. He’s the same age as Greinke and, despite a slow start to his career on the south side of Chicago and in Texas, his last two seasons in Oakland have been absolutely phenomenal, with two mid-3-point ERA’s in a row. As an added bonus, because he’s not a big household name, he may come cheap.

Anibal Sanchez: Another phenomenal option. He’s also 28 years old and has a career ERA of 3.75. He’s in the World Series, so he’ll have a nice big national audience to display his talents to. His price might go up if he has a good Series, but he would likely be well worth it.

Beyond these four, there are a number of other starters who are at least worth a look. But, for my money, I say the Cubs would be best served focusing on Greinke, McCarthy and Sanchez, but not necessarily in that order.

Because the free agent market is so thin offensively, there’s a good chance that teams are going to put the utmost importance on pitching. Though I’m not necessarily sure what the value of Greinke is on the open market, I can only assume it’s pretty significant.

Personally, I think it could be so significant that the Cubs might be able to snag both Sanchez and McCarthy for not too awful much more than Greinke’s likely to get by himself.

But, as always, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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