The deadline to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players came and went on Monday. The no brainer was Matt Garza, who figures to be the Cubs ace in 2012 if the trade rumors remain just that, and as expected the list included Geo Soto, Jeff Baker, Blake DeWitt, Randy Wells, and new Cub Ian Stewart.
The only name left off the list was Cubbies Crib reader non favorite Koyie Hill. Many voiced their displeasure of retaining Hill last off season, citing his lack of offensive productivity. That low level of activity continued for the 2011 season. So why the change of heart this off season? Even though there is a new front office running the show, it is not the change in power that has sent Hill packing. The back up catcher figured to get another raise through the arbitration process that would have bumped his earnings to over $1 million for the year. Combine that with the fact that the Cubs have a couple rookies in Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger waiting in the wings, and it makes sense that now is the time to part ways with Hill and thank him for his loyal service as a back up.
But the real interesting news, reported by Phil Rogers, is that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are rumored to be interested in a reunion with Jason Varitek. The former captain of the Red Sox clubhouse appears to be out of a job in Boston, as the new front office there has made moves that make Varitek expendable.
Age is the concern when it comes to considering Varitek as a back up option for the Cubs, but other than batting average (which was only slightly better than Hill’s in 2011), the veteran catcher still has plenty to bring to the table. He still appears to have double digit HR power left in his bat, and his ability to switch hit would be an added bonus as a back up to the right handed starter Soto. Varitek is a solid clubhouse presence that could help implement the culture change Epstein and Hoyer are working on.
Varitek earned $2 million last season, but for a deal to mutual in my mind, the ex Red Sox should not be signed for more than $1 million. For those that are worried about injuries due to age, the Cubs would still have Castillo and Clevenger ready to step up if the old man goes down.
But the reunion rumors do not end there. Rogers also mentioned that there is interest in 45 year old Tim Wakefield. My first reaction is no thanks, especially when you see the 5.12 ERA and consider his age. But for a minor league deal, it might be worth seeing how he looks this Spring. Getting out of the tough AL East combined with a move to the NL could see a more respectible ERA in the 4.00 range. With the Cubs quite on the starting pitching targets this off season other than the Yu Darvish bid, the team will need someone to fill the fifth starter slot, and it would not be unrealistic to see Wakefield, who won seven games last season, at least providing the shaky production that the Cubs saw in 2011 out of the fifth starter by committee group led by Ramon Ortiz and Rodrigo Lopez. While the rumor will not have Cubs fans thinking World Series in 2012, you can at least see the logic behind the thought.
With the Coco Crisp rumor that Jordan mentioned earlier today, so much for Epstein’s comment about not making the Cubs the Chicago Red Sox if at least two of these rumors end up coming true.