Strap on those work boots, ladies and gents – its going to be a long off season.
While Cubs fans are very well acquainted with being patient and dealing with the lesser side of success, this is going to be one of those especially painful times. Sure, we can argue until were blue in the face about how much being a Cubs fan hurts, but the bottom line is the off season is where teams make moves.
More specifically, moves the Cubs need to make. Badly.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are no strangers to the rebuild process having worked together in Boston during their neat little run in the early 2000′s where they won a World Series title or two. Not that anyone was watching…. (I apologize, I’m just bitter)
But a brand new challenge faces them with the Cubs during the 2012 off season. After making some very serious changes to the minor league system, including hiring pretty much all new coaching staff and even relocating the location of their Low-A affiliate to Kane County, the brass will have to solve a few very key problems that currently plague the Cubs.
Firstly, there are really only 4 players who are certain to return to field on opening day in Chicago: Starlin Castro, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol, and David DeJesus. They all combine to be owed $38 million next season which is a pretty significant portion of the Cubs overall payroll. These guys are not to be worried about, as they’re contractually bound to return… even if you don’t want them to.
The rest of the 40 man roster is a bit more of a toss up. This is where Epstein and Hoyer’s expertise in to play. The only player who falls in the free agency catagory is Shawn Camp. He was extremely valuable to the Cubs last season (mostly by comparison because the Cubs had little to no real impact talent in the bullpen) and its been expressed that the Cubs would like to have him back next year.
Is it time to panic and throw money at him to ensure he stays? No… far from that actually.
The brass are playing it smart by waiting on Camp. The team will have to toss him a “qualifying offer” before the Nov. 9 deadline and that will have to total the average of the top 125 paid players in the MLB at a minimum in order to save their draft picks. This gets much more complicated, but I wont bore you. Camp will likely return since he’s not being actively head-hunted by other team, but a deal will not be rushed because the Cubs will want to keep his spot on the 40 man roster open which gives them a little more flex room.
These players, who make up the bulk of the 40 man roster as of right now, include the likes of Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Luis Valbuena, and James Russell- all guys who the Cubs have significant interest in keeping around. They’ll all be tendered contracts by the Nov.30th deadline and these contracts will all be very different. You can imagine that Samardzija will be held on to and may be inked for a moderately lengthy contract, whereas guys like Ian Stewart will likely not be offered much, if anything.
How we evaluate the brass’ moves based on contractual structure will have to wait for about another month, but there’s plenty to talk about in the mean time. The 40 man roster is constantly changing and players are designated for assignment to free up room on the 40 man roster. Just today, Justin Germano elected for free agency after being DFA’d.
Manuel Corpas has also elected for free agency in the same process. He was solid at times – 79 ERA+, 1.75 SO/BB, 5.21 RA9 in 46.2 IP in 2012, but wont be missed too much.
Those who accept their designation for assignment will spend time in the minors. They include INF Adrian Cardenas, RHP Miguel Socolovich, RHP Jason Berken, OF Joe Mather and RHP Blake Parker along with others. They’re still very much part of the Cubs system, so no need to worry about missing them.
As if all this wasn’t enough to manage, the brass also need to work out their third baseman situation while still abiding by the usual MLB deadlines. Ian Stewart may not be returning as a Cub, prospect Christian Villanueva isn’t major league ready, and Luis Valbuena is a patch up player at best. Worse yet, the third baseman market is putrid this season. Even Placido Polanco has been mentioned, but for I personally hope he’s not a Cub come April 1st.
As the Rule 5 draft approaches, the Cubs will have work to do. Luckily the brass do have a few tricks up their sleeve to protect some of their prized players from being snatched up by other predators. Matt Szczur has already been hidden away on the 40 man roster and I’m certain more will find their way there as the draft draws closer.
Have a headache yet? Me too.
Much will be revealed about the rebuild with how the brass handle the varying situations laid out earlier in the column. The challenges that face the front office are massive, but there is no staff more qualified than those the Cubs posses.
Needless to say, we’ll be watching very closely and evaluating as news breaks.
Want more? You can always follow me on twitter @Denny_CubsCrib for Cubs analysis, news, humor and updates.