Breaking Down a Few Free Agent Predictions with Cubs Ties

Prediction pieces are usually equal parts educated guesswork and conversation-starting titillation. Such is the case with MLB Trade Rumors’ list of the potential landing spots and contracts of the top 50 free agents in this year’s class, though I think there’s some worthwhile stuff in here.

I want to be clear off the bat that the salary figures and destinations below are not my brainchildren and I am not endorsing the accuracy of them in any way by citing them here. Rather, I’m using them as a jumping-off point for what I hope will be some engaging conversation. I tried try to limit these to bite-sized nuggets due to the scope.

Don’t worry, I didn’t cover all 50, just those with either actual or assumed ties to the Cubs. First up are players predicted to be signed by the Cubs, followed by former Cubs headed elsewhere, then a few guys we think are Epstoyer targets (numbers indicate MLBTR’s ranking).

1) Yu Darvish – Cubs; six years, $160M

Man, I just don’t see this happening. While the Cubs can afford it on paper, it seems too long and too expensive, particularly in light of what we’ll see with Arrieta here in a bit (which I think is way off, but whatever). At $26.6M per season, Darvish would eat up well over half of what the Cubs will really have to spend and he’d more or less eliminate them from pursuing the likes of Bryce Harper next winter.

Then you consider the extensions they’ll be trying to negotiate with Kris Bryant and the rest of their young stars, all of which will add to the payroll in not-insignificant ways. Again, this doesn’t make much sense to me.

16) Addison Reed – Cubs; four years, $36M

You know what I’d do with $38M? Two Addisons on the same team. The former closer has reinvented himself as a shutdown setup man and he’s going to get paid as such. Thing is, I can’t imagine the Cubs making him their closer, so this doesn’t fill the void they’d have if Wade Davis is gone.

Oh, and the amount I listed in that obscure Office Space callback is based on adding in Addison Russell’s projected bump to $2.3M in arbitration.

30) Jake McGee – Cubs; three years, $18M

I dig it, though I think the money is perhaps a bit much for a guy with McGee’s checkered injury history. What’s interesting to me is that these predictions have the Cubs spending $15M AAV on Reed and McGee, neither one a closer, while Davis heads to Houston for that exact amount (see below). That’s a lot for one dude, but I’d just as soon retain their stopper and fill in the ‘pen with cheaper options.

4) Jake Arrieta – Brewers; four years, $100M

This feels too low. Like, way too low, in terms of both time and value. If this is all it takes to land the former Cy Young winner, why would the Cubs let him walk? And to go to the Broors, of all teams. Beyond that, it makes no sense whatsoever that the Cubs would balk at $100M for Arrieta but would spend 60 percent more over two additional years for Darvish.

I find it very hard to believe that Arrieta can’t get more AAV over more years in a more desirable location. Don’t get me wrong, Milwaukee is a fine place for fans of American macrobrews and dairy products. But that’s not really Arrieta’s bag, baby.

8) Wade Davis – Astros; four years, $60M

This makes sense. The Astros can afford it and the money fits with what we’d expect Davis to get on the open market. All things considered, though, I could see the Cubs paying for Davis before ponying up for the Reed/McGee combo we saw earlier.

32) Alex Avila – Yankees; two years, $16M

Avila will parlay the best season of his career into the biggest contract of his career. When discussing him as a trade possibility for the Cubs, I wrote that he’d have a chance to earn more on his next deal than he had over eight previous seasons combined. This might not equal that $18.3M total, but it’s close. The Yankees already have a catcher, though, don’t they. Whatever, Avila and Sanchez can trade off between catching and DH duties.

39) Jon Jay – Rangers; two years, $14M

Jay played himself into a comfortable deal with a bounceback performance this past season, which is nice. He was more than adequate in Chicago, but there’s simply no room for him on a roster that needs to let its young talent develop.

9) Lance Lynn – Rangers; four years, $56M

I see this as a much greater possibility for the Cubs than the Darvish deal above. It’s still maybe a year longer than they’d maybe like to do, but the $14M AAV for a proven pitcher is hard to beat. I mean, that’s $2M less than they were paying John Lackey.

11) Alex Cobb – Twins; four years, $48M

Repeat exactly what I said above, except lower the AAV by a couple milly. If the Cubs could find a way to complete their rotation for $26M per, man, that would leave them with room to add some nice pieces. Cobb has been on the radar for some time and the blips started coming with greater frequency once Jim Hickey — Cobb’s pitching coach in Tampa — was added to the mix.

19) Brandon Morrow – Rockies; three years, $24M

There’s been a lot of speculation that the Cubs will target the hard-throwing righty, who burst onto the scene as a lockdown setup man in LA this past June. A former starter, Morrow’s career had been hampered by injuries and poor usage prior to this season. Then there’s the way he sputtered in the World Series, though that was a matter of overexposure.

Knowing what we do about the non-linear nature of pitching development, just think about how difficult it would be for even the healthiest stalwart to jump straight to the majors after being drafted. Then shuttle him back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen and mix in a bevvy of injuries and tell me whether you think that pitcher will ever be successful.

Morrow is a gamble, no doubt about it, but I’d be all over it if the contract MLBTR is projecting is even close to accurate. Neither the time nor the money is the least bit prohibitive and it’s even possible that he could serve as the closer if the Cubs chose to go that route.

25) Bryan Shaw – Red Sox; three years, $21M

Though he isn’t really considered an elite strike-thrower, Shaw’s career average of 3.0 BB/9 is far better than the 4.25 posted by the Cubs’ bullpen this past season. He’s made the most appearances in MLB since 2013 (442) and has avoided the DL entirely, so that’s nice. Then again, you could look at that durability and worry that the law of averages will catch up to him soon.

27) Andrew Cashner – Athletics; two years, $20M

This is kind of a pet favorite of mine because I think Cashner represents excellent value in addition to being a full-circle signing. He’s had trouble staying healthy since being traded to San Diego for Anthony Rizzo, but this would be a low-risk move that could net an inexpensive fifth starter.

However, my thought is that Cashner could transition into a bullpen role, a la Morrow or Andrew Miller. Given the injury history, Morrow actually offers a really apt comparison. While the former Cub has seen his fastball velo dip over the years, a move to shorter outings could bring some of that back. If that’s what the Cubs envision for Cashner, $10M per is a bit salty.

29) Tyler Chatwood – Phillies; three years, $20M

While it’s maybe not accurate to say I’d be all over this, the value you’re getting from a big-time groundball pitcher at this AAV is very high. Chatwood’s homer numbers were up this past season and his consistency leaves a lot to be desired, but we’re talking about a guy at the back end of the rotation with potential to be really good.

36) Anthony Swarzak – Brewers; two years, $14M

Here’s another bullpen piece who I really like on this contract. The AAV is a little high for a guy who’ll work the mid-to-late innings, but there’s so little risk in only a two-year deal that it should be worthwhile. I’ve got a feeling Swarzak might command a little more in terms of length.

41) Tommy Hunter – Braves; two years, $12M

Another former Cub, Hunter really put it together down in Tampa this season. He’s got a 97 mph fastball, but cut way back on its usage in favor of the cutter this past season. Hunter also has a sinker and curve, giving him a very strong repertoire for a reliever.

With a career average of only 2.02 BB/9, Hunter fits the main criterion Theo Epstein set forth for improving the ‘pen this winter. While it’s not likely to be as much of a factor as with Cobb, it should be noted that Hunter’s resurgent season came under Hickey’s tutelage.

Again, these are all hypothetical and I can’t recommend using MLBTR’s predictions for anything more than entertainment purposes. The Darvish and Arrieta stuff alone has me imitating the pensive emoji in all its sarcastic glory. But even rough accuracy on some of these would mean the ability to sign Davis, Lynn, Cobb, and Morrow for $49 million. Though that’s $10 million more than I said the Cubs would spend, it still leaves them well under the cap for next season and doesn’t commit them for more than four years to anyone.

What it doesn’t leave is money to pursue position players of consequence, which seems unlikely. Not that the Cubs are looking to add a real impact bat, just that they’d do well to round out the bench with a solid vet who’s probably going to run them something similar to Jay’s $8M deal last season.

Rather than signing four of the pitchers from the list above, I see Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer trying to ink two or three. They’ll likely trade for another and then shop in the middle and lower tiers for some value guys. Just look at what they were able to get from Brian Duensing for only $2M; surely there are more options like that out there again this year.

Just for gigs, let’s imagine the Cubs sign Davis, Cobb, and Hunter; that’s only $33M or so. Or maybe they go Lynn, Swarzak, and Morrow for $29M. That’s no me telling you who I think they’ll sign, my goal here is just to present some scenarios to illustrate who the Cubs could add and at what cost.

The market is shallow this season, but it’s really broad. That’s not a bad thing at all, it just means the Cubs are going to have to pick the right spots and try to extract value rather than just spending for the sake of addressing needs. Not that we were worried about that.

So who from this list do you want to see at Wrigley next season? Any I didn’t name that are in MLBTR’s top 50 or elsewhere?

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