The Rundown: Review of Cubs’ Offseason Activity, More Signs Point to Harper/Cubs, Free-Agent Frenzy Coming

Since this time of year my company goes through its annual review process for employees, I thought I’d review the Cubs’ offseason and reconfirm goals for the rest of the winter.

As of November 1, the Cubs’ needs were to reconstruct their bullpen, replace Jake Arrieta and John Lackey in the starting rotation, and possibly find a centerfielder/leadoff hitter. Eight Chicago players filed for free agency, with the marquee names being Arrieta and Wade Davis. The other players whose contracts expired included Jon Jay, Alex Avila, Rene Rivera, Brian Duensing, Koji Uehara, and Lackey.

The Cubs seemed somewhat interested in bringing Davis and Arietta back, but Davis signed a record-breaking contract with the Rockies, and, depending on what other teams are willing to spend, Arrieta may command more than the Cubs can afford. One national report had the Cubs interested in bringing the right-hander back on a four-year deal worth about $110 million. A six-year deal would be the preference of Arrieta and his agent, Scott Boras.

Facing two open spots in the starting rotation, the team quickly signed Tyler Chatwood just ahead of the Winter Meetings in Orlando. Chatwood is certainly an upgrade over John Lackey, but the fifth spot is still up for grabs. And though Mike Montgomery remains an option to fill that opening, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have met with Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb in addition to Arrieta.

Duensing and Uehara have been replaced by Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek, both of whom appear to be upgrades. But Morrow may end up being the team’s closer, and though not an upgrade over Davis, the potential is there and the cost to acquire the former Dodgers pitcher aligns with the Cubs’ offseason budget. Morrow was dominant last season, particularly in the postseason, showcasing an elite slider and filthy cutter to go with a four-seam fastball that averaged 98 mph.

The final bullpen opening may go to Dillon Maples unless the Cubs sign another relief pitcher. Though Addison Reed and Greg Holland have been mentioned as potential signings, it is more than likely they will be too expensive. The Cubs would have four pitchers potentially capable of closing should they decide to go with a committee approach: Morrow, Cishek, Maples, and C.J. Edwards.

Rivera and Avila are still available and the Cubs may bring back one of the two to back up Willson Contreras, but Victor Caratini can fill that role. He’s hit well in the minors and could see 200-250 at-bats this season if the team is confident in his abilities at this level. By hook or by crook, Lackey should retire, and I don’t think Jay is an option to return, which could free up at-bats for Albert Almora Jr, though the Cubs are said to be interested in Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain as possible outfield additions.

By my measure, the Cubs have accomplished most of their goals and have done so by getting a combination of experience and potential on short-term deals that, by design, leave the front office with a lot of flexibility going forward. Adding a starting pitcher seems to be all that remains. With liberal use of the disabled list and a management-imposed limit on innings, no Cubs pitcher reached 200 innings last season. For that reason, it is imperative that Montgomery remain as swingman/sixth starter. Moving him permanently into the rotation leaves a gaping bullpen hole that would seem to be impossible to fill.

I’d definitely give the front office a “meets or exceeds expectations” grade in my review. They’ve methodically put together a roster that is still capable of winning a World Series, and have done so in a financially responsible manner. And though Darvish or Arrieta could be exciting additions to the team, a better option may be to look to the trade market to acquire that final piece in order to maintain that payroll flexibility.

Cubs News & Notes

Arrieta and Davis have the dubious distinction of being named to the All-Overpaid Free Agency Team. If Arrieta doesn’t sign anywhere in the next 24 hours, I’ll game scenarios in which either the Cardinals or Brewers sign the free agent pitcher and how that would affect the division race.

Old news, but I can’t get enough of it: MLB Insider feels the Cubs are the favorite to land Bryce Harper next season. A scenario like that takes a lot of things to go right, and now that the Yankees have assumed Giancarlo Stanton’s contract, and assuming they can’t unload Jacoby Ellsbury, things are falling into place nicely for the Cubs:

  • Harper’s desire to test free agency? Check.
  • Financial flexibility to afford Harper’s expected contract? Check.
  • Limited number of potential suitors? Check.

It could come down to the Cubs and Nationals, and possibly the Astros, when it comes to signing the All-Star right fielder next season.

Wednesday Stove

The shape of the offseason could turn the month of January into a frenzy as free agents attempt to find landing spots before spring training. This is a Royals-based article but an interesting look at the offseason landscape for all teams.

The Royals have reportedly made an un-Royals-like offer to retain Eric Hosmer on a 7-year deal worth $147M dollars.

David Schoenfield of ESPN predicts where the remaining free agents will sign.

Rising Apple makes a case for the Mets to sign former Cubs pitcher Andrew Cashner.

The Braves are interested in acquiring Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins. Purple Row concocts a scenario in which the Rockies could feasibly obtain the two Miami players as well.

KSDK-5 in St.Louis gives their predictions for the 2018 Cardinals season.

The salary arbitration filing date is January 12th. Spotrac has a real-time arbitration tracker in case you want to follow along.

Sports Illustrated offers some suggestions to AL teams to kickstart this painfully slow offseason.

Brew Crew Ball looks at some of the better Brewers prospects heading into this season.

Thursday Walk Up Song

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2. Picky GMs concur.

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