Cubs by the Numbers: Free Agent Pitching Targets and their Value

Free agency is now upon us, and coupled with the hiring of Joe Maddon, the Cubs are expected to be supremely active both this offseason and into the next year in adding talent to the major league roster.

We all know the suspected pitching targets, but let’s take a look at what would their value be to a (fingers-crossed) competitive 2015 Chicago Cubs team.

Top-Tier Pitching Targets

Jon Lester

  • Has been attached to the Cubs for seemingly the past 4 or 5 months and he fits the bill of what they are looking for.  A pitcher with post-season dominance, a quiet leader, and, with Theo’s history in Boston, a little less of an unknown.
  • Went 16-11 with a 2.80 FIP, 9.01 Ks/9 and 1.97 BB/9…this all translated to a 6.1 WAR season, which is the best of the perceived Cubs’ targets.

Max Scherzer

  • Tom doesn’t see the Cubs pursing Scherzer and I think there are some valid concerns, but there is no doubting that he has been one of the most dominant starters over the past 3 years, posting WARs of 4.5 (2012), 6.4 (2013) and 5.6 (2014).
  • Went 18-5 with a 2.85 FIP, 10.29 Ks/9, and 2.85 BB/9.
  • Will command a very large contract and I can’t envision a scenario where both of these guys are signed by the Cubs; I’m not as down on Scherzer as others may be, but my preference would be Lester

James Shields

  • Viewed as a fallback if the Cubs don’t sign either of the first two options.
  • Nicknamed Big Game James, but after his less than great post-season performance, I have seen a more appropriate nickname of Three Frames James.
  • In 2014, Shields went 14-8 with a 3.59 FIP, 7.14 Ks/9, and 1.74 BB/9, good enough for a 3.7 WAR.
  • My hope would be that another team scoops him up and he becomes someone else’s underperforming “Ace.”

Second-Tier Pitching Targets

Brandon McCarthy

  • Finished 2014 with a 10-15 record, 3.55 FIP, 7.88 Ks/9, a miniscule 1.49 BB/9 and 3 WAR.
  • Does a decent job of keeping the ball out of the air, as over half of his outs came via the ground-ball (52.6%)

Jake Peavy

  • Won a World Series title in back-to-back years, so he has that going for him, but his 2014 was kind of meh, 7-13, 4.01 FIP, 7 Ks/9 and 2.8 BB/9.
  • Earned 1.9 WAR and will be almost 34 by opening day, meaning he may not command as much as McCarthy.

AJ Burnett

  • A recent entry into the free agency pool by virtue of declining his $12.5 M option for $12.5 with the Phillies.
  • Probabaly expects to get more than that on the market, but he could just be interested in not losing next year, which the Phillies are set to do.
  • 2014 was a less than stellar performance, but again, the Phillies were pretty bad.  Burnett finished 8-18 with a 4.14 FIP, 8 Ks/9, and a miserable 4 BB/9; still good enough for 1 WAR, but almost bad enough to invoke comparisons to Edwin Jackson.

Bullpen Targets

Let me start this section by stating that I think the bullpen was a real strength last year and any addition at the expense of other exciting arms like Arodys Vizcaino is not something that I am in favor of.

David Robertson

  • The Cubs have been connected to Robertson as an option for their bullpen; I’m not saying I think it should happen, just that it’s been brought up.
  • Had an outstanding 2014 as the Yankees’ closer: 39 saves, a 13. 43 Ks/9 with a FIP of 2.68, all good enough for a 1.7 WAR.
  • The Yankees did issue him a qualifying offer, so there will be some compensation for signing him. I don’t think he is going to be worth the money that he will get on the market, and he may very well accept the Yankees’ offer.

Luke Gregerson

  • I would be a fan of Gregerson as an option for the pen, but not at the expense of another exciting young arm. Gregerson’s 2014 was solid, but not spectacular (72 IP, a little over 7 Ks/9 with 1.87 BB/9, FIP of 3.24); his WAR for the season was 0.9.
  • Nothing super exciting, but could be a guy that adds a little value to the pen if he comes at the right price.

Zach Duke

  • Could be an option as a lefty for the pen. He had a renaissance season that saw him adjust his delivery to add some deception. He finished the year with 58 innings, a robust 11.35 Ks/9, 2.61 BB/9 and a FIP of 2.14 for 1.3 WAR.
  • Zac Rosscup and Wesley Wright are the two current lefties in the pen, but recently re-signed Tsuyoshi Wada could also take one of those spots.

Lottery Ticket

These guys are the ones that the Cubs could sign and hope that the magician Chris Bosio can get his hands on them and wring as much as humanly possible out of their talent.

Brett Anderson

  • Recently had his option declined by the Rockies, making him a free agent.  The knock on him has never been talent, but health. Over the past 4 seasons Anderson has only appeared in 43 games, which should make him cheap enough to be worthy of a flier by some team.
  • Best season was 2009 when made 30 starts for the Oakland A’s and had an 11-11 record with a FIP of 3.69 and 3.6 WAR.
  • I could see some team hoping to capture that talent and promise and hope that he can stay healthy, which has to be among the poorest bets out there.

Justin Masterson

  • Another candidate that has a great chance to be “fixed” by Bosio; Masterson had about as bad a 2014 as possible, which will help lower his price. He finished the year 7-9 with a 4.50 FIP and just 0.3 WAR.
  • Only a year removed from a 14-10, 3.35 FIP and 3.5 WAR 2013 season, so there is hope for an improvement.
  • Stuff was not as good as the year before; flatter, slower with worse command.  But the fact that he has a little history with the front office and also has had some recent success makes him worthy of a flier.

It is entirely possible that none or maybe just one of these targets will be signed. And that’s fine, since next year’s free agent pitcher options are just as solid, if not more so, with David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Rick Porcello, Mat Latos, and Johnny Cueto among the available pool.

Either way you slice it though it should be a fun winter because the Cubs will be in the conversation with many of these guys and the time to go for it is now.

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