Cubs were busy during the MLB Winter Meetings ending the week of Decmeber 9, 2016
The Cubs had some significant free agents leave the team, but they were expected to leave:
Dexter Fowler-Fowler was a great leadoff hitter for the Cubs in both 2015 and 2016, but after his tremendous season and the Cubs winning the World Series, a big contract on the open market was expected. The bad news: Fowler signed with the rival, St. Louis Cardinals, so the Cubs will still see their friend quite often in 2017 and beyond. The good news: Fowler was a great Cub, so I for one, am happy to see that he got a great contract. And as a Cubs fan, the Cubs do get a 1st round pick as compensation since they offered Fowler a qualifying offer after the season ended.
Aroldis Chapman-Chapman was a great closer for the Cubs and certainly helped the 2016 Cubs World Series effort. Like Fowler, Chapman got the long term deal he was looking for this offseason, signing with the Yankees who traded Chapman to the Cubs in July of 2016.
John Jay-The Cubs signed John Jay to a one year contract, primarily to try to replace the void that Dexter Fowler will leave both in center field and Jay may be an occassional leadoff hitter as well. I think what I like most about this deal is that Jay and Cubs young outfielder, Albert Almora have known
each other for awhile. They both live in Miami. It appears that Jay will be asked to mentor the young Cubs outfielder and help replace Fowler in 2017.
Brian Duensing-the Cubs signed relief pitcher, Brian Duensing to a one year contract. Being a left-handed pitcher, Duensing appears to be a replacement in the event that Travis Wood leaves the Cubs, which seems likely, and replacing Mike MOntgomery if he is in the Cubs 2017 rotation. In recent years, Duensing has primarily been a relief pitcher, but he has started at major league level also so he may be a spot starter in case of
injury as well.
Koji Uehara-Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have a history with Uehara while with the Red Sox. This was also a one year deal and Uejara has continued to be a successful reliever so he should be a helpful arm in the
Cubs 2017 bullpen.
Caleb Smith-the Brewers selected Caleb Smith in the Rule 5 draft and than traded him to the Cubs. He could be some additional left-handed relief help since it seems likely that Travis Wood & Mike Montgomery may not return to the Cubs bullpen in 2017.
Wade Davis-Perhaps the biggest news thus far this offseason is the Cubs trading Jorge Soler straight up For Davis. Davis has been a great closer, helping the Royals to 2 consecutive World Series appearance, including the team's victory in 2015. Davis does just have one year remaining on his contract and Soler was signed for 4 years so this move could be questioned in future years if Davis does leave the Cubs in free agency after the 2017 season.
Here are some links with more details on these moves. All of the websites are one's I have been following for years and highly recommend for Cubs news and analysis. Enjoy!
The best website I know of to keep up with the offseason updates is MLB trade rumors. They aggregate news stories from sports pages around the country to give you the latest team updates.
They always do a very nice outlook of the offseason. Here is the Cubs outlook for the 2016 offseason. The full link with more details is listed at the bottom of the page.
•Jon Lester, SP: $90MM through 2020. Includes $25MM mutual option for 2021 with a $10MM buyout. 2021 option becomes guaranteed with 200 innings in 2020 or 400 innings in 2019-20.
•Jason Heyward, RF: $149MM through 2023. Heyward can opt out of contract after 2018 season or after 2019 season with 550 plate appearances in 2019.
•John Lackey, SP: $12.5MM through 2017.
•Miguel Montero, C: $14MM through 2017.
•Ben Zobrist, OF/2B: $44MM through 2019.
•Anthony Rizzo, 1B: $27MM through 2019. Includes $14.5MM club option with a $2MM buyout for 2020 and an identical club option for 2021. 2019 salaries can increase based on MVP finishes. Rizzo can void 2021 option with top two finish in 2017-19 MVP voting and subsequent trade.
•Jorge Soler, OF: $15MM through 2020. Can opt into arbitration after 2017 season.
•Jason Hammel, SP: Cubs chose $2MM buyout over $12MM club option.
•Dexter Fowler, CF: Fowler declined his part of $9MM mutual option, triggering $5MM buyout.
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; link to MLBTR projections)
•Pedro Strop (5.156) – $5.5MM
•Jake Arrieta (5.145) – $16.8MM
•Hector Rondon (4.000) – $5.7MM
•Justin Grimm (3.170) – $1.8MM
•Munenori Kawasaki (3.002) – $800K
•Non-tender candidate: Kawasaki
•Jason Hammel, Dexter Fowler, David Ross, Chris Coghlan, Trevor Cahill, Travis Wood, Aroldis Chapman, Joe Smith
Here are the primary offseason considerations for the cubs:
It seems very likely that Dexter Fowler will leave the team leaving an opening both in center field and possibly even more importantly, the leadoff spot in the Cubs everyday line-up.
Fowler improved his defense in center field by playing deeper and had a great year in the leadoff spot in the Cubs lineup in 2016. His .393 on base percentage really helped the team consistently have guys on base for MVP, Kris Bryant and Silver Slugger award winner, Anthony Rizzo. Fowler won his first Silver Slugger award in 2016 as well.
The likely candidates to replace Fowler are rookie, Albert Almora or Jason Heyward can move over from right field to play center field as well. Kris Bryant has played center field a litle and Matt Szczur is another capable backup so bringing in another player seems unlikely, but don't be surprised if the Cubs do try to find a veteran who can play center field as well even if it may be in a backup role.
the list of MLB free agent center fielders is one of the smallest with just Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Ben Revere & Melvin Upton Jr listed on MLBTR. There have been past rumors about Upton, but would he accept a possible backup role?
Dyson is the only one of the 4 that has been a career backup player. He does have a lot of speed so in my opinion, he may be the best free agent option if the Cubs do feel the need to add a player.
2) Relief Pitching:
The Cubs are likely going to lose Aroldis Chapman to free agency as he is expected to earn one of the highest free agent contracts for a relief pitcher in MLB history. Theo Epstein over his management career does not pay big money to relief pitchers. The Cubs will also likely lose in essence 3 other guys from the bullpen as Trevor Cahill & Travis Wood are also free agents that are unlikely to re-sign with the Cubs. The third loss (4 if you include Chapman) is that Mike Montgomery will likely be the #5 starter in the Cubs 2017 rotation after recording his first ever MLB save in game 7 of the World Series.
The Cubs are likely to bring in many relief pitchers into spring training as they have done in years past, but signing one, maybe even 2 relief pitchers this offseason seems very possible. Don't be surprised also if the Cubs add a "swingman", a veteran pitcher that has shown he is capable of starting or relieving. The Cubs philosophy, one that I like a lot, is to try to have 7 or even 8 capable starting pitching options that begin the season either in the Cubs rotation, bullpen or in the minor leagues. Wood, Cahill, Clayton Richard & Adam Warren (who all left the team in the middle of last year) all fit the "swingman" description so replacing these guys with other pitchers with similar capabilities seems likely.
MLBTR's list of relief pitchers include (some may have already been signed by teams):
Al Alburquerque (32)
John Axford (35)
Andrew Bailey (34)
Tony Barnette (34) — $4MM club option with a $250K buyout
Tyler Clippard (33)
Steve Cishek (32)
Wade Davis (32)
Jeanmar Gomez (30)
Luke Gregerson (34)
Jason Grilli (41)
Craig Kimbrel (30) — $13MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Brandon Kintzler (33)
Mark Lowe (35)
Jason Motte (36)
Pat Neshek (37)
Juan Nicasio (31)
Chad Qualls (39)
Addison Reed (29)
Francisco Rodriguez (36)
Bryan Shaw (30)
Huston Street (34) — $10MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Tom Wilhelmsen (34)
Chris Young (39) — $8MM mutual option with a $1.5MM buyout
Fernando Abad (32)
Antonio Bastardo (32)
Zach Duke (35)
Jake McGee (31)
Oliver Perez (36)
Glen Perkins (35) — $6.5MM club option with a $700K buyout
Tony Watson (32)
Which Relief Pitchers Will Cubs Get???
I don't think the Cubs will sign some of the top free agent relief pitchers like Chapman, Kenley Jansen & Mark Melancon, but adding a relief pitcher with a successful track record seems plausible and a lefty seems likely since they will likely lose Montgomery & Wood as bullpen lefties in 2017.
Greg Holland, who has been injured, but was a top closer prior to getting hurt may be a very nice, "high upside" free agent signing. I also like the idea of getting Tony Watson from the division rival Pirates. Jake McGee was a pitcher that the Cubs had an interest in trade talks in the past. Bryan Shaw looked good against the Cubs with the Indians in the World Series. And tyler Clippard is another pitcher linked to the Cubs in the past.
3) Starting Pitching
The Cubs 2017 starting rotation appears to be set with Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey & Mike Montgomery, but Arrieta and Lackey are on they're last contract years with the Cubs so the Cubs still may be looking to add another capabile guy for the rotation via free agency or trade. Since the Cubs declined the option on 2016 starter, Jason Hammell, it seems unlikely they will get another free agent, but the possiblility is still there. A trade seems a little more likely. The Cubs have been very active in trade talks with teams like the Rays, A's, Indians & Mariners for starting pitching. Even if the Cubs don't sign a free agent starter or trade for a starter that could join the rotation in 2017, look for the team to sign some guys this offseason that could start a few games throughout the season.
Roster resource has the following guys on the cubs current depth chart in AAA as starting pitchers: Aaron Brooks, Pierce Johnson, Ryan Williams & Jordan Pries. You could see a couple of these guys get some starts in 2017.
the teams most likely to trade starting pitching to the Cubs seem to be the Tampa Bay Rays and possibly the Cleveland Indians. Both teams have a lot of good young pitching, but also have low payrolls so they may need to trade some young starting pitching to fill other needs.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have both said publicly that they are interested in trading for young, controllable (contract wise) starting pitching. With the possiblity looming of losing John Lackey and Jake Arrieta in 2018 (or paying either one of them big contracts), the need for good, young pitching may be the most important key to keeping the Cubs championship run started in 2016 to continue into the future. Mike Montgomery was a good start last year, but the need for one or two more good starting pitchers is still very important.
The starting pitchers that may be available from the Rays could be Alex Cobb, lefty Drew Smyly, former Cubs minor leaguer, Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi.
4) Which Cubs could be traded?
The Cubs have so much good young hitting and without a lot of good young pitching, a big trade may be very possible this offseason. Both Epstein & Hoyer have commented on a weak free agent class this year meaning that they are likely to be less acitve than recent years, buth they are always looking to improve the team via trade.
It became widely reported that the Cubs couldn't get Andrew Miller from the Yankees without trading Schwarber. That's probably why they traded Gleybor Torres instead for Aroldis Chapman. Unless there is a big blockbuster trade, I don't expect the Cubs to trade Schwarber. He had
such an impact returning in time for the World Series and his bat seems to really change the Cubs line-up a lot.
Baez defense has probably put him in a category as untradeable as Schwarber, but will the Cubs keep playing him at second base and move Ben Zobrist to the outfield permanently? I'm not so sure that's going to happen.
I would put the odds of Baez being traded only slightly higher than the Cubs trading Schwarber. It still seems very unlikely the Cubs would trade such a valuable infield defensive player that Baez has shown to be. His impact defensively may be as much as Schwarber's is to the offensive lineup.
Jorge Soler (update-Soler traded for Wade Davis)
Soler certainly seems like the guy without a position left for him with Schwarber's return the emergence of Javier Baez Baez. Soler barely played in the World Series even with Jason Heyward struggling at the plate. the problem now with Soler is that his trade value has diminished from where it was in past years. A year ago, you would've thought that Soler could bring back a young, controllable starting pitcher, but now the Cubs may need to include other players to bring back a good young pitcher for Soler.
I would put the possiblity of Soler being traded this offseason at greater than 50%. Hopefully, the cubs can bring back starting pitching, but I've read articles that seem to indicate that MLB ready bullpen help is probably more likely.