A Guess at What the 2014 Cubs May Look Like
There's a lot of talk lately on what the Cubs future will look like and many of us are curious on just how young the Cubs will look in 2014. TheJedi have already hinted that a lot of youngsters will break camp with the team in 2014, but they say a lot of things and doesn't necessarily mean it's true. That being said, let's take a quick look at some possible options for the 25-man roster next year. Per usual, trades are nearly impossible to predict, so I don't really bother.
Incumbents: Welington Castillo/Dionar Navarro
2014 Potentials: Castillo/Navarro/Saltalamacchia/Flores
Big Name Free Agent that Cubs won't be pursuing: Brian McCann
Castillo's no world-beater, but he seems solid at the plate and it'll be his age 27 season next year. The offensive numbers aren't particularly earth-shattering, a way too high strikeout rate north of 22% and a walk rate under 10%...plus his pitches per plate appearance is just 3.79 this year, which if he qualified puts him well near the bottom of catchers. He also has a nasty habit of getting injured a lot.
Navarro will be playing at age 30 next year, so I expect a strong push for a reunion, maybe on a very reasonable 2-year deal.
If the Cubs do surprise and go the free agent route (and not knowing whom will be non-tendered), the 3 that show up as 30-and-under are Brian McCann, Jesus Flores and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. I really don't expect the Cubs to make any overtures on any of them, but if they were, Saltalamacchia would seem to be the best bet. We know Theo already liked him enough to get him for the Red Sox, he brings some left-handed power and he possesses that wonderful ability to make a pitcher work, seeing 3.94 pitches per plate appearance. Of course, he also K's over 30% and is more likely to hit .220 than .270 and that's not going to help with bringing runners in. So a long shot to say the least...
Best Guess: Castillo/Navarro reunion
Incumbent: Anthony Rizzo
2014 Potentials: Anthony Rizzo
Big Name Free Agent that Cubs won't be pursuing: Justin Morneau (I guess)
Not much to analyze here, Rizzo will be playing first and batting in the middle of the order next year and hopefully doing much better than a .251 Batting Average on Balls in Play.
Only Guess: Anthony Rizzo
Incumbent: Darwin Barney
2014 Potentials: Barney, Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Donnie Murphy, Bobby Scales
Big Name Free Agent that Cubs won't be pursuing: Robinson Cano
This one could be interesting. Barney is eligible for arbitration and while he encompasses just about everything wrong with the Cubs offense (lack of everything that is required of a major league hitter such as power, taking walks or hitting the ball farther than 120 feet), he is a gifted defender. But not that gifted to that he'll keep the Cubs from pursuing an upgrade.
Where that upgrade comes from is the big question though. I've seen a lot of folks handing the job over to Alcantara, but he's still in AA and hitting .268 this year...yes that comes with a .343 OBP and a little more pop than Barney, but I don't know what the expectations would be by people for a 22-year old that skips AAA. Alcantara should start the year in AAA and maybe in June or July if he's tearing it up, get a look with the major league club, but more than likely, we don't see Alcantara in Wrigley until 2015 I'm guessing, if ever, because a Castro/Baez up the middle sounds far more appealing to me. Also, at best he's probably cheap major league average regular at second base, don't get too excited folks and if a trade opportunity arises, I wouldn't worry much about blocking him.
Now if the Cubs let Javier Baez try some new positions this offseason, I see him as a much more realistic possibility to take most of the AB's at second base next year. It's clear he's a special hitter at this point and even if he has some growing pains, he could inject this offense with a major upgrade. Now of course, the Cubs are going to be mindful of his service time and more likely he's a regular at 2b, 3b or SS in 2015, but let's say I wouldn't be the least bit surprised.
The free agent market starts and stops with one name and that's Robinson Cano. It being his age 31 season next year, I don't see the Cubs handing out any 7-10 year deals worth north of $150M though. If for some odd reason Cano really likes Wrigley and is willing to take 4/100 type deal, that's about the only way that'll happen.
Best Guess: Barney starts the season there, but does not finish with Baez or Alcantara taking over
Incumbent: Starlin Castro
2014 Potentials: Castro/Javier Baez
Big Name Free Agent that Cubs won't be pursuing: Does Rafael Furcal count?
It's been a tough year with the bat for Castro undoubtedly, but he'll still be just 24 next season. The Cubs will rightfully stick with him and even if they are having internal discussions about whether they want to move him out of the way for Baez, they'll wait until Castrol raises his value considerably.
Only Guess: Starlin Castro
Incumbent: Luis Valbuena
2014 Potentials: Valbuena/Mike Olt/Kris Bryant/Javier Baez/Christian Villanueva
Big Name Free Agent that Cubs won't be pursuing: Michael Young (sure)
What was once a position of weakness is suddenly overflowing with potential talent. Now who takes the job will be the interesting part. it should go to Mike Olt, but we all know of his struggles. No one knows his winter plans yet, but suffice to say he better show marked improvement before getting to spring training and then put together a pretty solid spring to win the job.
Villanueva has heated up in AA, but he'll most certainly start off in Iowa looking to take over for injury or ineffectiveness. Never say never and all, but he's certainly the most likely to get traded at some point in the future between him, Olt and Bryant.
I'm probably getting ahead of myself on Bryant and Baez, but Bryant was a pretty special college bat and pretty special college bats don't necessarily need a lot of time in the minors. Once Bryant shook off the cobwebs, he tore up the Northwest League and now the Florida State League, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the Southern League and Pacific Coast League are mere speed bumps to the majors. He won't start in the majors next year, but I wouldn't be surprised if he finishes there.
Take that last sentence and apply it to Baez as well.
Best Guess: Valbuena or Olt to start the season, potentially Bryant or Baez force their way onto the team
Left Field & Center Field
Incumbents: Junior Lake & Brian Bogusevic
2014 Potentials: Schierholtz/Lake/Choo/Bryant/Soler/Nelson Cruz/Corey Hart
Big Name Free Agents that Cubs won't be pursuing: Curtis Granderson and Jacoby Ellsbury
Well if the Cubs spend money this offseason, it'll be on left and center field and starting pitching I'm guessing (also potential they sign a right fielder and move Schierholtz to left). I know there's this plethora of minor leaguers just bubbling near the surface to pop, but they're not quite here yet and unless they're tearing it up in AAA this year, there's no sane reason to count on them in 2014. Guys like Szczur, Jae Hoon-Ha, Jackson aren't guys you reserve up playing time for and guys like Bryant, Soler and Almora have unknown due dates at the moment. Almora is probably the farthest away of the bunch (as much as 3-4 years wouldn't surprise me), so that means to me that a center fielder would be the most likely to get a longer term deal and the only real center fielder that should be playing there defensively that's available on the open market is Jacoby Ellsbury. At least one that I think would make much of an impact.
I'm sure TheJedi would love to have Ellsbury, but that is only if Ellsbury would take a four year deal in the 75/80 range and I don't think anyone sees that happening. But if it did, don't worry too much about him blocking anyone, even if Almora forces his way onto the team sooner rather than later, Ellsbury is skilled enough defensively to move to a corner if necessary. That being said, it's very unlikely to happen.
On the other hand, Choo is a year older than Ellsbury, but should be substantially cheaper. Can the Cubs get him for 3/45? Hell if I know, and I don't know if they'd try him in left or center field (his defense is center is a bit sketchy), but they sure would love that OBP and quality at-bats at the top of the lineup.
If the Cubs go the buy low option, I wouldn't be surprised if they make a run at Nelson Cruz on a 2 year deal. He may very well end up with something much better, but the Cubs could use that power in the middle of the order after losing Soriano. Corey Hart could be another candidate in that vein.
More likely the Cubs continue to dance on the edges of free agency and look for more David DeJesus and Nate Schierholtz types, and very well may bring DeJesus back on a 1 year deal in the $4-5M range. A look at the potential free agents though doesn't bring any obvious candidates to mind though.
Best Guess: Choo, DeJesus, Schierholtz/Lake platoon
Incumbent: Nate Schierholtz
2014 Potentials: Schierholtz/Lake/Choo/Cruz/Bryant/Pence
Big Name Free Agent that Cubs won't be pursuing: Carlos Beltran
Lake could very well start the season in left or center, but I'm guessing the Cubs would be far happier with him as a utility player/short side platoon mate. That being said, they may wait for Lake to reduce himself to that role or for Bryant and/or Soler to force him there.
Best Guess: Schierholtz/Lake platoon
Incumbents: Samardzija, T. Wood, E. Jackson, J. Arrieta,
2014 Potentials: Beyond the 4 named above - K. Hendricks, J. Grimm, C. Villanueva, S. Baker, A. Vizcaino, P. Hughes, J. Johnson, S. Feldman, C. Rusin
Big Name Free Agent that Cubs won't be pursuing: Matt Garza
The rotation looked like a black hole two years ago and the Cubs seem to have slowly built it up with some shrewd moves. I have no idea of the five that will break with the club (well I have a good idea on 4 of them), but they have some depth in Hendricks, Grimm, Rusin, Raley and Villanueva already in the system. And to say the least, I won't be surprised if they pursue at least one free agent that they could flip again if things come to that again next July. If TheJedi really want to shake things up, trading Samardzija would do the trick. Seliing high on Travis Wood wouldn't be a bad idea either as he'll never repeat his luck on BABIP again, but the return wouldn't be as great as the one for Samardzija.
Best Guess: Samardzija, T. Wood, E. Jackson, Arrieta, S. Baker
Incumbents: K. Gregg, P. Strop, J. Russell, B. Parker, C. Villanueva, M. Bowden, H. Rondon
2014 Potentials:Too long a list but Russell, Strop and Villanueva seem pretty likely
Big Name Free Agent that Cubs won't be pursuing: F. Rodney
There's really no point to try and guess what the pen will look like to start next year because there are too many moving parts and it certainly won't finish the season looking like that. We can certainly make a good guess that Strop, Russell and probably Villanueva will be in there to start, leaving 4 open spots. The Cubs certainly aren't going to throw a ton of money at anyone, but they'll bring in some free agents and we know they like power arms. I could see Joba Chamberlain as a good buy low option, maybe Oliver Perez (not as cheap) or even Joel Hanrahan. But it could be none of them as well. They do have Fukijawa coming off surgery at some point and the rest of the minors could produce options in Alberto Cabrera, Rafael Dolis, Zach Rosscup, Tony Zych and Armando Rivera and some other names I'm certainly forgetting or underestimating.
I, of course, have no idea what the team will actually end up looking like, but here's 2 potential lineup options I could see happening. I could also see about 10 other options, but let's start here.
Free Agent Option
If the Cubs surprise and spend money on outfielders, presuming on shorter deals (2-3 year variety).
Choo (8), Castro (6), Rizzo (3), Cruz (9), Schierholtz (7), Olt (5), Castillo (2), Barney (4)
Bench: Navarro/Valbuena/Lake/Watkins/Sweeney or Bogusevic or Ha
Draft Pick Strategy Option
The Cubs continue to spend little and make sure to block no one.
DeJesus (8), Castro (6), Rizzo (3), Schierholtz (9), Olt (5), Lake (7), Castillo (2), Barney (4),
Bench: Navarro/Valbuena/Watkins/Sweeney/Bogusevic (maybe Ha)
If the Cubs really want to shake things up and continue to not break the bank on silly free agent contracts, their best best will be to trade Jeff Samardzija. I think they feel pretty confident in finding starting pitching on the open market and maybe Samardzija brings them back some near-ready major leaguers. Would a Samardzija for Anthony Rendon trade be possible? I have no idea, but it intrigues me. So would a Samardzija for Kolten Wong trade, but that type of inner-division trade is pretty unlikely. And yes, I would expect some other pieces to be involved in any of those fanciful propositions.
Anyway, to sum up, I really don't expect an influx of talent from outside the organization in 2014. There isn't a ton out there that makes sense right now at the positions the Cubs need and it seems the Cubs are committed to let their youngsters get their shot.