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Chicago Cubs: Free agency money was well spent

Apr 5, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Chicago Cubs left fielder Matt Szczur (20) and right fielder Jason Heyward (22) and center fielder Dexter Fowler (24) head in from the field after defeating the Los Angeles Angels 6-1 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 5, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Chicago Cubs left fielder Matt Szczur (20) and right fielder Jason Heyward (22) and center fielder Dexter Fowler (24) head in from the field after defeating the Los Angeles Angels 6-1 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /
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A quick glance at the stats of the Chicago Cubs free agent acquisitions from this winter doesn’t look great, but each has filled their role exactly as anticipated.


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Understanding what a free agent is “worth” is always a tricky business. Often times it’s dictated by the market, and then the price paid is compared against whether or not the team needed that player. If you sign a closer for $35 million for three years but have no offense, that’s likely a signing that will be frowned upon. Looking at the Cubs this year, all three key free agent signings–plus

Dexter Fowler

who by definition was the same–have been worth every penny spent.

While the numbers are indeed improving for Ben Zobrist (.254, one HR, eight RBIs) and Jason Heyward (.260, 12 RBI, for SB), their slow starts had some people a bit concerned. John Lackey started with back-to-back wins but needed stellar offense in his opener in Arizona to do so. And Fowler? You would think he was the $184 million man and not Heyward with his hot start, but all have been worth it.

First, all three were going to get contracts near what they signed for, and maybe even more. The Cubs didn’t look at the top bid and then “overpay” by $10-15 million. The contracts for these guys were set by the market, and they were paid handsomely–as most free agents are. But while the Cubs raised the payroll this winter, they haven’t handicapped themselves with these contracts. This isn’t Jim Hendry’s Cubs. We have youth, and it has matured quickly.

The Cubs locked up Anthony Rizzo early for a seven-year, $41 million deal on what I guess could have been called a gamble. He wasn’t coming off a stellar season, nor was Starlin Castro. But the team made the choice to identify them as “stars of the future: and sign them through their arbitration seasons. Castro has since been dealt to the Yankees, but that was necessary due to the Zobrist signing. Some didn’t like Castro, but he played a key role last season while also helping to bring in Adam Warren to the bullpen.

Heyward was brought in for his defense, there’s no doubt about that. He’ll hit for .280, maybe hit 20-25 home runs, but the Cubs wanted to solidify their outfield defense. We’ve already seen how WAR works with some amazing catches and an outfield assist to save a win by J-Hey. Coupled with Fowler in center these two can cover any parks dimensions . And has anyone else noticed that Fowler’s defense looks improved?

Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber are making a pittance compared to what they one day will. But with those deals still a few years away the Cubs can mesh that youth with these free agents to give the Cubs their best chance at a World Series title in my lifetime at least. And while the Cubs have hit the mark on these deals, it wasn’t without some misses (looking at you Edwin Jackson and Jose Veras).

The Cubs by all means spent big money this winter, but they’ve done it strategically in conjunction with their youth and farm system. The had perceived “holes”, and the additions have filled those holes perfectly. Schwarber was considered a liability in the outfield following last season by some, but when he was injured it was doomsday if you were to watch the media outlets. But the Cubs haven’t missed a beat.

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The next big signing needs to be Theo Epstein and his staff–or as many as the team can keep. Can he continue to put the Cubs in this position year in and year out? It’s a difficult task but he’s proven up to it so far, and no one else has shown to be as capable as he is.

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