The immediate impact free agents that were once on the market seven days after the World Series, have since signed with new teams. Shortstop Jose Reyes signed with the Miami Marlins; Albert Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels; and Prince Fielder recently signed with the Detroit Tigers. While all of those players were expected to be the biggest names on the free agent market this winter, there are still a plethora of available free agents that can still bring some value to the Cubs in 2012. While 2012 is nothing but a rebuilding year for the Cubs, that philosophy will not interfere with the Cubs ability to provide adequate back-ups to some of their weaker positions on the 25 man roster.
President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein’s and General Manager Jed Hoyer’s plan this off-season for the Cubs was an success. The Cubs pitching staff–with the additions of Travis Wood, Chris Volstad, and Paul Maholm–is much improved over the pitching staff the Cubs had at any point during the 2011 season. Not to mentioned that the strength of the Cubs’ farm system is at a point where it may have been under the previous Jim Hendry regime. The additions of Anthony Rizzo, Ronald Torreyes, Dave Sappelt, and Zach Cates have likely gotten the Cubs’ closer to being in the top 10 of Baseball America’s farm system ranking. The Cubs ranked fourteenth prior to those additions, and it appears they may move up a spot or two once Baseball America updates their rankings. The potential signings of Cuban outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler may also inch the Cubs closer to the top 10. Ditto for Cuban left handed pitcher Geraldo Concepcion if the Cubs sign him as well.
But there are still holes on the Cubs’ 25 man roster. The biggest areas of need on the Cubs’ 25 man roster are at the first base and middle infield positions. The Cubs have their first baseman of the future in Anthony Rizzo, but Rizzo will not be ready until at least half-way through the season. Before Rizzo is pegged as the starting first baseman, again likely to occur at some point during the season, career minor league Bryan LaHair will start the season as the Cubs’ starting first baseman. Rizzo is going to start the season with the Iowa Cubs, meaning the Cubs’ back-up to LaHair at this point is utility infielder Jeff Baker. No offense to Baker, but his best positions are by far second base and third base. While the Cubs are rebuilding in 2012, and Baker as back-up to first base would fit under such a scenario, it may be more likely that the Epstein and Hoyer attempt to sign a veteran first baseman who may also contribute to the Cubs’ rebuilding project.
That first baseman is none other than veteran free agent Derrek Lee. Any Cubs’ fan or National League Central follower shouldn’t have to google “Derrek Lee” to know what the veteran first baseman is all about. Lee puts his team first above anything else. While Lee, like any player, likes to be on a winning team, the first baseman’s first concern is as a teammate and providing a clubhouse environment for the rest of the 24 players in the clubhouse. Prior to former Cubs’ general manager Jim Hendry convincing Lee to accept a trade to the Atlanta Braves in August of 2010, Lee was adamant that he wanted to remain with the Cubs and the ride the season out. Not to mention that when Lee was with the Cubs, the first baseman always seemed to be the vocal leader of the team. After all, it was Lee who went head-to-head with former teammate Carlos Zambrano when the pitcher was erupting in the dugout after a poor showing against the Chicago White Sox in 2010. Lee, who hit .337/.398/.584/.982 with the Pittsburgh Pirates late last season after being traded from the Baltimore Orioles, would provide a more than adequate insurance policy to LaHair at first base.
Meanwhile, the Cubs have Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro as their projected starters at second base and shortstop respectively. However, beyond Barney and Castro the Cubs do not have a true shortstop on the roster. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know why having your back-up shortstop as your starting second baseman simply would not work on a 25 man roster of a major league baseball team. Though, it is possible that Barney begins the season as the Cubs primary back-up to Castro at the shortstop position and not as the starting second baseman. As has been documented on Cubbies Crib, there is some question as to whether or not Barney will indeed be the starting second baseman come opening day. With the free agent market for second basemen and shortstops being scarce, there have been whispers that Epstein and Hoyer may be working on a trade bring in another middle infielder.
So while the heavy-lifting of the off-season appears to be over, there still seem to be some moves that Epstein and Hoyer are quietly working on.
Topics: Albert Pujols, Anthony Rizzo, Bryan LaHair, Chicago Cubs, Darwin Barney, Dave Sappelt, Derrek Lee, Geraldo Concepcion, Jorge Soler, Jose Reyes, Prince Fielder, Ronald Torreyes, Starlin Castro, Yoenis Cespedes, Zach Cates