If nothing were to change during the off-season, and if all pitchers are healthy come Spring Training, the Cubs would probably enter the 2007 season with a starting rotation consisting of Carlos Zambrano
, Mark Prior
, Rich Hill
, Sean Marshall
, and either Angel Guzman
, Juan Mateo
, Jae-kuk Ryu
, or Ryan OíMalley
In an interview with Len Kasper on WGN-TV last week, Cubs GM Jim Hendry
was talking about 2007 and mentioned the need to upgrade pitching as (obviously) something he (obviously) would be trying to do. Obviously.
With Ryan Dempster
, Scott Eyre
, and Bob Howry
signed through 2008, and with four or five younger relievers (Will Ohman
, Michael Wuertz
, David Aardsma
, Roberto Novoa
, and Carlos Marmol
) already on board and another half-dozen or so possible candidates (Federico Baez
, Lincoln Holdzkom
, Carmen Pignatiello
, Clay Rapada
, Andy Shipman
, and Randy Wells
, plus Guzman, Mateo, Ryu, and OíMalley if they don't start) likely to compete for a spot in the pen, I would imagine when Hendry was talking about addressing pitching, he was mainly talking about adding at least one veteran established healthy starting pitcher to the rotation, or possibly two.
NOTE: I am not advocating any of this, it's just my take on what I think Jim Hendry might do...
If Jim Hendry is given a 2007 payroll budget somewhere in the vicinity of $100m (could be a liitle bit less, could be a little bit more), and presuming that if Aramis Ramirez
is re-signed to a contract extension after the season that it will likely be a "back-loaded" deal that won't significantly increase his $11m 2007 salary, as things stand right now, it appears that the Cubs GM will have about $20-25m in available '07 payroll to spend on re-signing an "in-house" free-agent (like Juan Pierre
), signing one or more FAs from other clubs, and/or adding a player or players via trade.
Hendry's M. O. seems to be that he does not like to compete on the open market for high-profile free-agents, probably because he does not like to give four or five year big bucks contracts to free-agents from other organizations. He saves those deals for Cubs players (like Kerry Wood
, Derrek Lee
, and Aramis Ramirez, and probably Carlos Zambrano next Spring Training). So when Hendry does pursue a FA from another organization, he will either execute a "first strike" to address a glaring weakness (as was the case last off-season with Howry and Eyre, arguably the two best FA non-closer relievers available), or else he will wait and sign someone who plays a position of need, but where there is a glut (or "buyer's market") for players at that position. (This happened last off-season with FA right-fielders, resulting in the Cubs signing Jacque Jones
). Because the Cubs are usually willing to pay a little bit more than most other clubs to sign a player who plays a position where there is a buyer's market that particular year, they can usually be fairly sure of getting one of the better ones (such as they are) among the ones who are out there.
When Hendry is unable to address a need in either of those two ways (either by virtue of a failed "first-strike" or because the player he is pursuing is not in a class where there is a "buyer's market"), he is less-successful. He was unable to sign Rafael Furcal
(who would have been "one-stop shopping" to fill the perceived post-'05 need for a lead-off hitter and defensive upgrade at shortstop), and so he felt he was forced to make a trade for a lead-off hitter (Pierre) and take his chances with a rookie SS (Ronny Cedeno
). And the trade for Pierre cost the Cubs one of their top pitching prospects (Ricky Nolasco
), which probably wouldn't have been the case if Furcal had been signed. (Of course, Hendry still might have made the deal for Pierre even if he had signed Furcal).
Not signing Furcal meant that the shortstop job was Ronny Cedeno's to lose, and it also meant that Todd Walker
, Jerry Hairston, Jr
, and Neifi Perez
were guaranteed a chance to compete for playing time at 2B, which probably would not have happened if Hendry had managed to sign Furcal. (If Hendry had signed Furcal, Cedeno would probably have been moved to 2B in Spring Training, and Walker probably would have been traded prior to Opening Day for a "spare part" like Luis Matos
Which brings us to the forthcoming off-season.
It has been kind of presumed that Hendry will sign a FA starting pitcher sometime after the season, and I think he will, either by a "first strike" as soon as the "open" free-agency signing period begins (15 days after the conclusion of the World Series), or by waiting for second-tier FA starters to glut the market sometime around Christmas or even into early January. If he fails in a "first strike" to sign a "premier" free-agent starter (like Jason Schmidt or Barry Zito), he will probably attempt to make a trade for a starting pitcher instead, possibly as early as sometime in late November, or else (probably more likely) during the MLB Winter Meetings in December. This way (by acquiring a starting pitcher in a trade if he fails to sign Schmidt or Zito), the need to sign a a FA starter becomes less crucial, and makes it less likely that Hendry will have to overpay for one come January.
I believe Hendry will make an attempt to sign Schmidt or Zito, but will not offer enough in terms of years to get it done. I can't see Hendry offering either pitcher a five-year deal, and I would be surprised if he offers more than three years for Schmidt (because of his age). And therefore, Hendry will strike out in his bid to sign one of the two "premier" FA starting pitchers. Which means Hendry will then probably attempt to make a trade for an established starting pitcher sometime just before or at the MLB Winter Meetings in December.
Here are the pitchers I believe Hendry might be most-likely to target in a trade, in case he can't sign Schmidt or Zito. Of course, the availability of each pitcher listed below is unknown, and even if available, it is not known what it would take to acquire any one of them. It would vary, depending on the team and the pitcher. For instance, to acquire Garcia, Vazquez or Garland from the White Sox, it might cost the Cubs Bob Howry and one pitching prospect. To acquire Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins, it might cost three top prospects (a couple of pitchers and a position player), but nobody from the big club.
I have not included pitchers like Johan Santana
, Roy Oswalt
, Brandon Webb
, Jake Peavy
, Bronson Arroyo
, Aaron Harang
, Brett Myers
, Chris Young
, Erik Bedard
, Chris Capuano
, or John Lackey
, because it is beyond reasonable doubt that any of them would be available at any price. However, if any of them were to somehow become available, Hendry would almost certainly make an offer, in some cases, a combination of any three pitchers or position players in the organization (other club's choice) not named Carlos Zambrano
or Derrek Lee
, or Aramis Ramirez
(if Hendry can sign him to a contract extension, which I believe he will).
Each of the Dirty Dozen I have listed below are either getting close to free-agency (like after next season), or are eligible for salary arbitration while playing for a club that usually isnít inclined to go to arbitration with their guys, or are signed to existing contracts but could be available because their clubs might be headed in a ìdifferent directionî and might want to dispose of ("dump") the contract.
BTW, it is not inconceivable that Hendry might consider trading Mark Prior straight-up for one of these 12, too, just because Hendry might want a pitcher capable of making all of his starts or (if that isn't the issue) going deeper into games than Prior has generally been able to go during his career (due to high per-inning pitch counts). Personally, I think Hendry will hang onto Prior for at least another year, but you never know.
The age listed is what it will be as of Opening Day 2007.
(BAL) ñ age 32
2007 - $7.5m
2008 - $7.5m (or $500K buy-out)
(LAA) ñ age 30
2007 ñ $8.5m
2008 ñ $9m
2009 - $9.5m (FA after 2009)
(CHW) ñ age 30
2007 - $10m (FA after 2007)
(CHW) - age 27
2007 - $10m
2008 - $12m (FA after 2008)
(ATL) ñ age 31
2007 - $6m
2008 - $13m
2009 - $13m
2010 - $12m (or $1m buy-out)
(COL) ñ age 28
2007 ñ $6.5m, or else $100K buy-out with Salary Arbitration (FA after 2007)
(PHI) ñ age 36
2007 - $7.5m (FA after 2007)
(SF) ñ age 32
2007 - $9.5m
2008 - $9.5m
2009 - $9m (or $1m buy-out)
(CHW) ñ age 30
2007 - $12.5m (AZ pays $3m & NYY pay $3m of it, so it's really $6.5m)
2008 - Salary Arbitration (FA after 2008)
NOTE: Because he demanded and received a trade a year ago per rights granted in the CBA, he cannot be a FA again until after 2008.
(CLE) ñ age 29
2007 - $6.1m, or else $600K buy-out with Salary Arbitration (FA after 2007)
C. C. Sabathia
(CLE) ñ age 26
2007 - $8.75m
2008 - $9m (FA after 2008)
NOTE: Up to $3m in performance bonuses each year 2007 & 2008
(FLA) ñ age 25
2007 ñ Salary Arbitration
2008 - Salary Arbitration
2009 - Salary Arbitration (FA after 2009)
NOTE: Made $4.35m in 2006 (was post-05 Super Two)
If Hendry does not or cannot sign Schmidt or Zito (and I doubt very much that he will), and whether or not he is able to acquire a starting pitcher via a trade, he will next probably try to sign a FA starting pitcher.
Here are (as of right now) the Top 10 most-likely Cubs targets amongst MLB post-2006 FA-to-be starting pitchers (grouped alphabetically by RHP & LHP). Note that pitchers who are signed for 2007 but where there is a club option (like Mark Buehrle
, Tom Glavine
, Mike Mussina
, John Smoltz
, and Tim Wakefield
) are not listed here, although any of them could possibly become free-agents, in which case they would need to be added to the list. I have also not listed Greg Maddux or Roger Clemens, because I fully expect each will re-up with their current clubs (Maddux with the Dodgers, and Clemens with the Astros). Again, the age listed is what it will be for that player as of Opening Day 2007.
(*) denotes "premier" FA starter, likely to be available to Cubs only on a "first-strike" in November.
(AZ) ñ age 36
(TEX) ñ age 29
(STL) ñ age 28
(SEA) ñ age 28
(TEX) ñ age 28
* Jason Schmidt
(SF) ñ age 34
(STL) ñ age 32
(HOU) ñ age 34
(TOR) ñ age 31
* Barry Zito
(OAK) ñ age 28
Other than Schmidt and Zito (who are on another planet when compared to the others), I wouldn't expect anyone on this list to get more than three years (at most), or more than $8m per season (at most). Some will get even fewer years and/or less $$$. Of this group, I believe the most-likely candidate to be signed by the Cubs is Miguel Batista. Why Batista? Because if it turns out that one or more of the young Cubs pitchers emerges next season as a solid and reliable rotation starter, Batista can be moved to the bullpen. Batista has a "rubber arm," and is a versatile pitcher. In fact, he was the Blue Jays closer as recently as 2005. When used in the starting rotation (as he has been this season in Arizona), he makes all of his starts and usually pitches into the 7th inning (averaging 6+ innings-per-start). If not Bastista, any one of the others on the list (not including Schmidt or Zito, as I explained earlier) could be in the Cubs starting rotation next season. None of them are great, but those are the choices.
In addition, I fully expect Hendry to exercise the club option to buy-out Kerry Wood's contract for $3m, and then offer Wood a one-year deal with a low base salary (plus incentives), with the idea of using Woody out of the pen in '07, possibly as the closer. Whether KW would accept such a deal just so he can remain with the Cubs past this season is the big question, especially since other clubs might offer him more years and/or more guaranteed money. After all, he is "Kerry M. F. Wood."
Also, unless he pitches "lights out" as a starting pitcher for the Cubs the rest of this month and wins a spot in the rotation for next year (which seems very unlikely at this point), I would expect Wade Miller
to be offered only a 2007 minor league contract with an NRI to Spring Training. Again, he might not accept that, but that's probably the best offer he's gonna get from the Cubs.
But the bottom line (or last paragraph) is this:
I expect Hendry to add two veteran pitchers to the Cubs starting rotation for 2007, one essentially replacing Kerry Wood, and the other essentially replacing Greg Maddux. Assuming Zambrano and Prior are healthy at the start of the season (and what happens when you assume?), and presuming Hendry does acquire two new starting pitchers via trade or free-agency, that would leave just one slot open for one of the young Cub pitchers. At this point, Rich Hill would seem to be the front-runner for that slot, with Marshall, Guzman, Mateo, et al either starting at Iowa or working out of the big club's bullpen. And acquiring two veteran starting pitchers via trade and/or free-agency will probably leave Hendry with only about $10m in available 2007 payroll to add a starting position player, either by re-signing Pierre to play CF, or by signing a FA like Gary Matthews, Jr
to play CF or RF or Ray Durham
, Julio Lugo
, Ronnie Belliard
, Craig Counsell
, Adam Kennedy
, or Mark Loretta
to play 2B. But I doubt very much that we will be seeing Carlos Lee
, Alfonso Soriano
, or Gary Sheffield
in a Cubs uniform next season.