Cubs by the Numbers: Free Agent Hitting Targets and Their Value

This list could begin and end with one target: Russell Martin. It is early, but right now it seems like it could be a four-dog race for Martin’s services; the Dodgers, Pirates, Blue Jays and Cubs are all involved thus far (though I know it’s still super early).

So, what about Russell Martin and what he can bring to a roster that already features a young, if somewhat underperforming, catcher? Well, looking at Martin’s 2014, he slashed .290/.402/.430 with 11 HRs, 67 RBI and a WAR of 5.3; he should be looking for at least a 4-year deal on the FA market.

The main question is whether the Cubs want to invest that many years and a salary north of $12 million per year in a catcher that will be 32 years old at the beginning of the 2015 season.  In my opinion, assuming the bidding doesn’t get crazy (like 4 years, $60 million…but it isn’t my money, so whatever), then I’m on board with it.

Some of Martin’s strengths are what the Cubs truly lack. He is a high-OBP guy whose walk rate has never been lower than 10.5% since his rookie season, he’s a leader in the clubhouse and a boss on defense. Also, he has spent the past two seasons in the NL Central, so he should know what the division has to offer at this point.

Other Targets/Possiblities

I think the Cubs would be tickled to add Martin and maybe an left-handed or switch-hitting outfielder, along with some arms mentioned in an earlier post. So the other targets here are a mixture of possible OF targets with a side of Kung Fu Panda (who I just don’t see coming to Chicago).

Pablo Sandoval

Ok, we should just start here and get this out of the way. I’m not saying that Pablo should be signed by the Cubs, but young hitters with post-season experience and success don’t just come out of nowhere. So while I know that he probably won’t be on the North Side next year, I’m just saying I wouldn’t be disappointed if it happened.

Sandoval hit .279 with a .324 OBP and a .415 slugging percentage with a WAR of 3; none of those numbers really jump out and say “hey, give me a 6 year, $100+ million contract.” But then if you look at his postseason success: .344/.389/.544 in 154 ABs with 3 WS rings, you can see you would be acquiring a championship-caliber player.

Again, not saying the Cubs will get him. But I am saying that Sandoval is about to get paid and if it worked out to have him appear on the jumbotron in a Cubs hat, then I would not be mad at all.

Melky Cabrera

Cabrera would be an interesting bat for the Cubs to consider this offseason. He had a great 2014, with a .301/.351/.458 line, 16 HRs, and 73 RBI; all good enough for 2.6 WAR. He is not what some would call an “asset” on defense (-3.5 UZR in LF), but what player is perfect?

Cabrera will be 30 years old at the beginning of the season and could be looking for a 3- or 4-year contract, which some may still be hesitant to give due to his past PED suspension. In my mind he is at least going to be an affordable option for the Cubs. He was given a qualifying offer by the Blue Jays, so it is possible he could take that money and return to Toronto. However, he is seen as likely to deny that and test the waters.

Norichika Aoki

Aoki is a slap hitter who doesn’t strike out or walk much and plays average defense in the OF. For the American League champion Royals, Aoki hit .285/.349/.360 in 132 games. He won’t cost much in terms of years or dollars and he would fit in as a guy that could potentially play all 3 spots of the OF, though he has the most experience in right.

Aoki would fit nicely at the top of the order, maybe the number two spot in the lineup because he is speedy and can make contact and get on base in front of the potent middle of the Cubs order. He isn’t the sexiest of acquisitions, but he could be productive pick to fit in while the kids get their feet wet.

Colby Rasmus

Rasmus is a young (28 years old) but extremely flawed centerfielder. In 2014 he hit .225 with a .287 OBP, but did slug .448 with 18 HR and 40 RBI; all told he was worth 0.6 WAR.

Rasmus is flawed because he strikes out a ton (33%) and doesn’t walk enough (7.7%).  He does play an okay CF, though he was rated much stronger defensively two seasons ago: 2013 UZR=11.2 vs. 2014’s UZR=-9.1. In fact, if he had been a free agent after 2013 he would have been a great target for the Cubs.

In 2013 Rasmus hit .276/.338/.501 with 22 HRs and 66 RBI with 4.8 WAR. So the question for any team that signs Rasmus would be which year was the true picture of the player that he can be? He probably would settle in the middle and I think some team will take a chance on a young .250-hitting CF with decent pop.

Possible Trade Targets:

Jason Heyward

Would cost a pretty good haul in prospects as Heyward is coming off a solid year that saw him hit .271/.351/.384 with 5.1 WAR. He plays awesome defense and can run a little bit. Heyward isn’t a slugger like you would prefer from a corner OF spot, but with the talent coming up maybe the Cubs don’t need that kind of bat at every position.

Justin Upton

The Braves may very well look to retool a bit with a new regime in charge and it is possible that they look to move Upton as well. Upton hits right-handed, which makes him less than an ideal fit, but he is a sure thing for over 20 HRs and is only 27 years old. The cost for Upton may be as high as, if not a little higher than, the price for Heyward, but if the Cubs trade for an OF it is easy to say that the Braves should be among the first teams they call.

Carlos Gonzalez

The risk that comes with the cost of Gonzalez in terms of players and financial commitment may be enough to scare any regular GM. But if a team could find a way to keep Gonzalez on the field, he has some amazing ability. He checks off a lot of boxes for the Cubs, and hits left-handed to boot.

In 2013, he was a 4.7 WAR player that hit .302/.367/.591 with 26 HRs. The 2013 version of CarGo would be a transformative player on the 2015 Cubs, but the risks may simply be too many to contend with.

This week should be a great time for the hot stove to heat up as the GM Meetings begin in Phoenix; this will set the stage for the Winter Meetings in San Diego in early December. One way or another, the Cubs will do something. If I was a betting man I would say they get Martin done; it just makes too much sense for the Cubs before then moving on to the arms.

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