Hopefully in a few days the Cubs will have a new General Manager ready and willing to spend the Cubs’ money in search of another twenty or so wins per season. Much of the potential free agent conversation revolves around the The Two Big Twos: Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder on the offensive side, with C.J. Wilson and CC Sabathia on the pitching end. Each of these players has some challenges or drawbacks that the Cubs would have to be comfortable with. Fortunately, there are two other options.
At the plate, both of the big first baseman come with serious concerns. Pujols is, to put it bluntly, getting old. His contract will certainly extend beyond his prime years and leave the team that signs him paying well over $20 million for a lesser player than the Pujols we see today. In the case of Fielder, there are legitimate questions about his ability to continue to produce at a high level and play defense given his particular body type. The best thing for Fielder would be a contract in the American League where he can spend some time as a DH.
But the Cubs are going to need a big bat. With the likely departure of Aramis Ramirez and the hopeful departure of Alfonso Soriano (another custom-built DH candidate), where can the Cubs fill in the power gap? Carlos Pena? Joey Votto? I suggest Yoennis Cespedes.
Cespedes is a slugging outfielder who recently departed Cuba and is expected to sign a large contract with a major league team this winter. With Pujols, Fielder, and Ramirez all on the open market, I think the price for a lesser known slugger like Cespedes should be lower than it otherwise would be, and that in turn means the Cubs could be in a position to outbid the competition and still land him for a very affordable deal. At best, Cespedes plays well and fills in a big hole in the Cubs lineup while playing good defense. At worst, he provides a right handed bat to platoon with Tyler Colvin and Brett Jackson. Either way, provided the price tag is not excessively high, I think it is a gamble worth taking.
On the pitching side of things, C.J. Wilson may not even be willing to come to Chicago. He will be the big fish in the free agent ocean this year, and the Yankees are likely to throw him a solid gold fish hook on a diamond studded line. Even if the Cubs are willing to match the Yankees’ offer, Wilson’s priorities for his new team seem to rule out a move to Chicago.
In the case of CC Sabathia, if he does opt out of his contract, he will also be a very highly sought after target. Age could be an issue here as well, particularly if he starts insisting on a six or seven year deal. On the other hand, there are no indications he would be opposed to coming to the North Side. Then again, if he opts out of his contract simply to force the Yankees to extend his deal, as some believe he will do, the Cubs will never have a fair shot at him. Enter Yu Darvish.
Darvish is a young ace in the Japanese leagues. He has a lot of innings on his arm already, and that is one concern. Japanese pitchers do not have the greatest record of success on this side of the Pacific, but there are some who believe that Darvish will be the exception. A larger problem is that he will have to go through the posting process, in which major league teams will have to outbid each other simply for the right to negotiate with Darvish. That process can be extremely costly (just ask the Red Sox). However, if the Yankees are going to be investing heavily in Wilson and Sabathia, one major bidder may be out of the running before the process begins. There will be plenty of other candidates, but the Cubs should have the resources to bid with any of them… if they so choose.
This might be a good time to mention that Theo Epstein has had some success with the posting process in the past. Well, success might be too strong a word depending on your opinion of Daisuke Matsuzaka, but at the very least he has shown a willingness to work the process and had success signing his man.
To be perfectly honest, I’m a little leery of Darvish due to the sheer number of innings he has pitched, but he could be had at a lower average salary (even including the posting fee) than Wilson or Sabathia, and that is an attractive gamble. Hopefully the Cub at least participate in the posting process.
The real target here should be Cespedes, and I would rank him over Fielder and Pujols. He should be cheaper, come with none of the risks, and is more versatile in the field than either of the first basemen. He should also be more cost effective, and that will be handy over the next few years as the new General Manager attempts to rebuild a winning roster on the foundation left by Jim Hendry. I am not opposed to adding Fielder or Pujols… at the right price and the right length of contract… but Cespedes would be my higher priority.