WWJD? (What Would Joe Do?) 12/28/10


The holiday season has quieted the Hot Stove overall around the league after a busy Winter Meetings. The Cubs have not made headline grabbing moves as fans would have hoped this offseason, thanks to the budget constraints compounded by the big contracts still on the payroll. From what we have seen so far, the signs seem to be pointing to a quiet month in January as well. In my last post in this series, I looked into an idea to trade away a big contract to provide some salary relief. Today, I wanted to look into the final “hole” on the Cubs list that they wanted to address this offseason. Jordan has already touched upon this with the latest news on the Matt Garza front.

One of the reasons the Cubs have not already checked this off of their task list is because they actually have plenty of depth in the rotation. Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster will anchor the front of the rotation that figures to be filled out with the winners from a Spring Training competition amongst Randy Wells, Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Silva (if healthy), and Andrew Cashner (even though I prefer him to be the final piece of a nasty back end of the bullpen). But even then, the pitchers who win spots in the rotation out of Mesa will be pushed by the hyped prospects Chris Archer, Chris Carpenter, and Jay Jackson (all of whom our Minor League Writer Luke have mentioned throughout this offseason), who could easily force their way to Wrigley by May the way Starlin Castro did last season, assuming they do not wow the coaching staff and win a job right out of Spring Training.

But we all know the depth in bodies does not translate equally to depth in talent in the rotation. We already know the aces the Reds and Cardinals have to trot out to the mound in 2011, and we have watched from the sidelines as the Brewers have made moves to try to match the teams in red. If the Cubs are honestly attempting to compete in 2011, they will need to add a starter to fill the void left by Ted Lilly’s departure.

How can they, considering their tight budget for next season? Is there anyone even left out there that could be a true number three in the rotation?

As Jordan referenced, Bruce Levine reports that the Cubs are still keeping in touch with Tampa Bay regarding Matt Garza. His 2011 salary, even with a bump from arbitration, would be affordable based on the return in production he can provide compared to what is left on the market. He would be even more affordable if Tom Gorzelanny were sent back to the Rays along with the prospect package, as Gorzelanny could be set to receive up to $2 million in arbitration this year. The hang up in the deal would probably be for two reasons. One, with Garza still under team control until 2014, the Rays are not necessarily in a rush to trade him away. Second, are the Cubs willing to deal away four of their top prospects when they put in so much effort to improve the farm system to where it is at now?

Using the prospects dealt in the Zack Greinke trade as a barometer, the Cubs would be looking at having to deal top SS prospect Hak Ju Lee (or any one of their other middle IF prospects the Rays might like better), OF Brett Jackson, and two top pitching prospects from a list headed by Carpenter, Archer, and even Cashner. I know we have been used to over hyped prospects in the Cubs system this past decade, but the more I read those prospect names over and over, the more hesitant I get on whether I would want to pull the trigger on the deal.

Enter Carl Pavano. The word is that Pavano is still on the market because he is hoping for a three year deal at $10 million per year. The teams that are interested in him have supposedly only gone up to two years, with the annual or total salary not being rumored. On top of that, with Pavano being a Type A free agent, a team could lose a draft pick by signing him. This actually works in the Cubs favor as they will not have to worry about losing a draft pick, thanks to their 22nd place finish in MLB in 2010. If the three year demands of Pavano continue to be a deal breaker for the teams who have expressed interest in him, I would want to place a call to his agent to see if they can get creative with the third year. We could start with a middle loaded contracted. After getting burned with back loaded contracts, Hendry could actually tweak the concept and load the second year of the three year deal with the most money. The 2011 salary can be $5 million with the remaining $5 million deferred to year two. The year two salary would be $15 million and the year three salary would call back down to $10 million, meeting the total three year deal at $30 million Pavano is pushing for. By the final year of this deal, the $14 million owed to Dempster in 2012 would be off the books.

But after Pavano’s bust as a Yankee due to injury, the reason teams seem to be weary of going beyond the second year is that recent negative history. Considering the unlucky recent history with young star pitchers of their own this past decade, the Cubs may also be hesitant to go the third year. However, the Cubs can again get creative with the third year. I am thinking along the lines of the opt out clause given to Aramis Ramirez. Give Pavano a lower annual salary in 2013, something in the neighborhood of $7.5 million, and give him the opt out clause. This gives Pavano the safety net of a guaranteed third year in exchange for a slight pay decrease, while also giving him the freedom to leave for greener pastures after 2012 if he is able to continue the form he showed in 2010 for Minnesota and cash in one last time on a big multi-year contract at a market price that would be higher than the $7.5 million offered by the Cubs.

There are other out of the box ways to try to fit Pavano onto the Cubs payroll, but you get the picture. The question is, what would you do? Trade away top prospects for a sure thing in Garza; or try to manipulate some future payroll on a veteran starter in Pavano while gambling the prospects will pan out by the next two seasons?