Cubs sign Zobrist, trade Castro

130107_gq_trout_aWell as is generally the case, where there is smoke, there’s fire. And on Tuesday, there was a lot of smoke rising up above the city of Nashville where the MLB Winter Meetings are taking place. Lots of rumors began popping up involving the Cubs in multiple capacities, and sure enough they made the headlines by the end of the day.

The Cubs had been linked to Jason Heyward throughout most of Tuesday, and they still are (we’ll get to that later), but Tuesday evening the focus shifted to Ben Zobrist. Zobrist, one of the game’s best, if not the best, utility men was reportedly nearing a final decision as to where he would ultimately sign. Recent reports all indicated that the Mets were the heavy front-runners, however the Cubs made a late push and signed Zobrist to a four year deal worth $56 million. It is worth noting that of all players Cubs manager Joe Maddon has ever managed at the big league level, no player has played more games for him than Ben Zobrist. Also add in the fact that Zobrist was born in Illinois and still has family in the area, and you begin to understand why he chose the Cubs (aside from the obvious reason of them being a contending team).

What Zobrist brings to the Cubs is versatility. He wants to play second base, and he will, but the fact that he can literally play any other position outside of catcher and pitcher gives Joe Maddon extreme flexibility with his lineup decisions. He is also great at getting on base, with a career .355 on base percentage, and bats from both sides of the plate. If the Cubs don’t end up signing an obvious leadoff hitter, you might want to pencil Zobrist into that spot in the lineup.

Aside from his physical abilities, Zobrist is a winner and a leader. He has played in two World Series now, having won one last year with the Royals, and is generally looked up to by younger teammates. The Cubs, a team with relatively little postseason experience in the field, will definitely benefit from having Zobrist in the lineup come crunch time next season.

So while signing Zobrist was a big move, it may not have even been the biggest news to come from the Cubs on Tuesday. Shortly after agreeing to a deal with Zobrist, the Cubs dealt Starlin Castro to the Yankees in exchange for 28 year old pitcher Adam Warren and veteran infielder Brendan Ryan. The Yankees will take on the remainder of Castro’s contract.

Warren, the main piece coming back to the Cubs in the trade, started 17 games for the Yankees last year and posted a 7-7 record with a solid 3.29 earned run average. He figures to be a number 5-6 starter and/or long reliever. This now gives the Cubs four pitchers who can pitch in relief and make spot starts when needed. Their bullpen depth, which was problematic at times last year, is quickly turning into a strength of the team.

Getting back to Castro, his departure was one that we were all somewhat anticipating for quite some time now. Despite getting off to a horrendous start in 2015, he became a completely new player once being moved to second base, which is where the Yankees plan to start him. While his bat and clubhouse presence will be missed, it was a move the Cubs had to make for two reasons. One, they needed to open up the second base position in order to sign Zobrist. Two, they needed to dump some salary to sign Zobrist. As Theo Epstein said Tuesday night, consider the Cubs’ transactions as a “Castro for Warren and Zobrist trade.”

Looking ahead now, the Cubs are still heavily linked to Jason Heyward as well as Denard Span and, if all else fails, Gerrardo Parra. All three are either center fielders or are capable of playing the position. If the Cubs could have it their way, the belief is they would sign Heyward today.

The Cubs had also shown interest in dealing for Shelby Miller, but the Braves reportedly had too high of an asking price. Tuesday night, the Braves and Diamondbacks agreed to a trade that sent Miller to Arizona, and Dansby Swanson (number one draft pick in 2015 MLB draft) and Ender Inciarte (among a couple other prospects) to Atlanta. Given what Atlanta got in return for Miller, it is clear now why no deal was made with the Cubs. The Braves got an almost unbelievable return in that trade. It’s likely their asking price was for something much more significant than Jorge Soler.

While the Cubs are definitely in the hunt for an outfielder, rumors of their pursuit of a good, young starter have died down a bit. It is unclear if the acquisition of Warren put a halt to that or not, so those rumors could potentially pick up again at some point.

A lot more could happen today and as we approach the weekend, and it should be fun.

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Rumors heating up around the Cubs

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago CubsReports have surfaced today that the Cubs are zeroing in on the top free agent outfielder, Jason Heyward. After not signing David Price or Jordan Zimmerman, it appears that the Cubs are using the money they saved to try and lure Heyward into joining the North Side. We have already talked about why Heyward would be a great addition for the Cubs, but now it appears as though the Cubs are actively pursuing him.

Along with the reports of the Cubs chasing Heyward came the numbers 8 and 200 million, and yes, those are in reference to the type of contract he is reportedly seeking. Whether or not the Cubs are actually willing to pay him $200 million over eight years remains to be seen, but it gives us an indicator as to what Heyward is looking for. However, should the Cubs spend that kind of money on Heyward?

The answer is no. And honestly, no team should. Heyward has been a solid MLB player in his six seasons in the league, winning three Gold Gloves during that timeframe, but his offensive numbers are not worthy of $25 million per year. A more realistic contract would look something like six years and $108-$120 million, which if he would agree to, the Cubs should definitely sign him. In Heyward’s defense though, he is entering his prime years as he is just 26 years old, but $25 million per year is an awful lot of money for a guy who puts up just “decent” offensive numbers. The most logical reason for him supposedly asking for a contract worth $200 million is because there are lots of teams who would like to have him in their lineup. Look at it as a low supply, high demand situation.

In other Cubs news, Ken Rosenthal has reported that at least for the time being, the Cubs don’t appear to be in the Shelby Miller discussion. They are definitely interested in him, but it sounds more like the Braves are saying no to whatever the Cubs and multiple other teams are offering. At the same time, however, other reports indicate that Miller could be dealt soon, but no specific team has been definitively mentioned. This is without question a situation to keep an eye on.

Other than kicking the tires on Shelby Miller, rumors have the Cubs inquiring on a handful of other young pitchers. Carlos Carrasco (CLE), Danny Salazar (CLE), Alex Cobb (TB), and Matt Moore (TB) have all been mentioned as possible trade targets of the Cubs. All of the above are young and have loads of potential, but both Moore and Cobb have already had Tommy John surgery, which may or may not lower their appeal.

Simply put, things are heating up with the Cubs right now. With the Winter Meetings now well underway, it seems like only a matter of time before the Cubs strike a deal with another team and/or a big free agent, like Heyward.

Stay tuned.

Cubs Ink Lackey; Not Done Yet

130107_gq_trout_aFriday evening it was announced that the Cubs and John Lackey had agreed to a two-year contract worth $32 million. This was a move that had been rumored to be gaining steam in the twelve hours leading up to the official announcement, and it’s one that instantly makes the Cubs a better team.

The Cubs’ starting rotation is now Arrieta, Lester, Lackey, Hendricks, and Hammel. Signing Lackey gives them that third starter that the team so badly missed during this year’s playoff run, and it gives them more postseason experience. Lackey is 8-5 in 20 career postseason starts with a 3.11 era. He started three games for the Red Sox during the 2013 postseason, and posted a 2.57 era while helping Boston win the World Series. Three players from that 2013 Red Sox team are now on the Cubs.

David Ross, Jon Lester, and John Lackey are all fairly good friends going back to their days in Boston, which apparently played a significant role in Lackey deciding to join the Cubs. He’s one of the more intense, hard-nosed pitchers in the league and will inevitably bring even more of an “edge” to this Cubs team.

While we shouldn’t expect Lackey to put up equivalent numbers this year to the ones he posted this past regular season, it’s not out of the question to expect an earned run average under 3.40 with at least 10 victories. If he can deliver with numbers somewhere along those lines, that would be very ideal given his age.

Despite the Lackey signing, I would be surprised if the Cubs are totally satisfied with their rotation. That is why I am still anticipating some serious discussions to take place between the Cubs and Braves revolving around Shelby Miller. As I stated in a previous article, Miller would be a great fit for the Cubs given his age and potential, however acquiring him would mean Jorge Soler likely going the other way.

If that deal were to take place, it would not be out of the question for the Cubs to sign Jason Heyward and Denard Span. Trading Soler would open up right field for the Cubs, which is Heyward’s natural position, and Span could then play center with Dexter Fowler all but for sure gone.

While all of that is possible, the odds of it happening just like that are not great.

In other news around Major League Baseball, the Arizona Diamondbacks came out of nowhere Friday night and snagged Zack Greinke away from the grips of both the Dodgers and Giants. Greinke’s deal with the D-Backs is for six years worth $206 million, or a little over $34 million per year, which is a new record. Arizona definitely needed to upgrade their starting rotation, and while adding Greinke surely helps them accomplish that, they are still another starter or two away from becoming real contenders in the NL West.

Speaking of the West, the Giants came to an agreement with Jeff Samardzija today on a five-year, $90 million deal. Rumor had it that Samardzija was looking to sign a contract worth over $100 million, but I don’t think there was any team in baseball who was going to give him that.

So there you have it with the latest big news regarding the Cubs and the rest of the league. Continue to keep an eye on the Cubs in the coming days as the Winter Meetings are set to kick off on December 6th.

With Price and Zimmermann Gone, Cubs can Zero in on Other Targets

130107_gq_trout_aThe Cubs entered this offseason with the main goals of adding depth to their starting rotation and bullpen, as well as signing a center fielder. Many believed that David Price was the Cubs’ number one target, but he signed a record-breaking deal with Boston yesterday that the Cubs simply could not (nor should they have) matched. Another supposed target of the Cubs, Jordan Zimmermann, signed with the Tigers over the weekend. So now two starting pitchers that the Cubs were believed to have had serious interest in are gone. Where do they go from here with regards to adding pitching, and what free agent outfielders may they heavily pursue?

Let’s start with the pitching.

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are not going to hand out a $150 million contract to a starting pitcher. Not with Lester already making more than that and Jake Arrieta set to earn a major pay raise in the next year. What the Cubs are likely looking for is a pitcher who will accept a two to three year deal worth anywhere from twenty to fifty or sixty million. John Lackey’s name has come up quite frequently in Cubs rumors, and honestly it makes some sense.

Lackey is 37 years old, but he is coming off of a great season in St. Louis where he went 13-10 with a 2.77 earned run average. While age is a bit of a concern with him, he doesn’t seem to be showing many signs of slowing down. At least not yet, which is why signing him to a two-year contract worth somewhere around twenty million makes sense for both sides.

In addition to John Lackey, Jeff Samardzija’s name has begun popping up as a potential target of the Cubs. When the Cubs dealt him to Oakland two years ago at the trade deadline, Epstein and Hoyer did not rule out the possibility of re-signing the big righty when he became a free agent. Well, that time has come, and it appears the Cubs’ brass may be sticking true to their word. Samardzija had a pretty rough season in 2015 with the White Sox, going 11-13 with a career worst 4.96 ERA. Despite having some of the best “stuff” in the game, he lacks control of his fastball with regularity. When this happens, he becomes extremely hittable.

One other possible starting pitcher that could potentially end up on the north side is Shelby Miller. This could only happen via a trade. Rumors have been swirling of a possible Jorge Soler/Javier Baez for Shelby Miller trade. I would assume there would be more pieces to that puzzle if it actually happened. And if it did happen, it would be a great pickup by the Cubs.

The Cubs have an overload of middle infielders with elite talent, and if they could trade one of Baez or Castro and get Shelby Miller in return, it would be a huge move. Miller, who is just 25 years of age, was brought up by the Cardinals and pitched with them from 2012-2014 before ending up in Atlanta. His career numbers are pretty good, and also a bit misleading. Have a look:

2013: 15-9, 3.06 ERA

2014: 10-9, 3.74 ERA

2015: 6-17, 3.02 ERA

Notice that he had a career best earned run average this year, but also had the fewest wins and most losses of his short career. Despite pitching extremely well in 2015, he had no run support in Atlanta. Miller averages about 94mph on his fastball, with a good two seamer. He also throws a curve, changeup, and cutter. He threw more cutters in 2015 than in any other year of his career, and it worked out pretty well for him.

Alright, so that’s the breakdown of the Cubs’ top pitching targets that I think they could realistically end up with. And if they do land any of those three, it will be two of them at most.

Now to the outfielders.

Let’s not mess around here, and get straight to the point. With Zimmermann and Price off the market, the two guys that the Cubs were most likely to spend big on, they now have some extra cash to throw at a center fielder. Enter Jason Heyward, the most sought-after outfielder on the market.

130107_gq_trout_aAfter playing his first five seasons in Atlanta, Heyward was traded to St. Louis in a deal that included none other than Shelby Miller going the other way. In his six seasons in the league, Heyward has averaged about a .270 batting average, 19 home runs, and roughly 70 runs batted in. Not eye-popping stats, but still good ones. This past season was one of his best, as he hit .293 with 13 dingers, 60 RBI, and a career best 6.54 WAR (wins above replacement), which was good for fifteenth in all of baseball. He also won his third career Gold Glove in just his sixth season.

Heyward will get a lot of money from whichever team signs him. The specific amount remains to be seen. The biggest question that the Cubs have regarding signing Heyward is his ability to be a full-time center fielder. Odds are that Dexter Fowler will not return to Chicago, meaning Heyward, who played a handful of games in center while in St. Louis, would take over that position. If the Cubs believe Heyward can handle that permanent role, they will aggressively pursue him, and rightfully so.

Another option that the Cubs have is Denard Span, who has New York Mets v Washington Nationalspatrolled center field for the Nationals over the last three seasons. Span, who is 31 years old, has a career batting average of .287 and a .352 on-base percentage. Both of those numbers are very ideal for a leadoff hitter, which is where he’d bat if in the Cubs’ lineup. He is also an above average defensive player, with a career .991 fielding percentage.

So after all of that, here’s how I would like to see things unfold over the next month:

  • First, I think a Castro/Baez for Shelby Miller trade would be huge for the Cubs. What the Braves will likely want, however, is Jorge Soler, which I would still be in favor of. Miller is young and has a very good arm. Put him to work with Chris Bosio (a pitcher guru), and he could become a star.
  • Second, the Cubs would be smart to sign John Lackey to a two-year deal worth roughly twenty million, as I previously discussed. Given Lackey’s age, this is a good deal for both the club and the player. Imagine a starting rotation of Arrieta, Lester, Miller, Lackey, and Hendricks… Not bad.
  • Jason Heyward. The Cubs need to sign him ASAP, meaning whenever they can. He would be a great addition to the lineup without question.
  • If the Cubs fail in getting Miller or Lackey, then I’d be okay with them turning their focus to Samardzija.
  • Like with Samardzija, Denard Span should be the Cubs top outfield target if they miss on Heyward.

This is likely going to be a fun December for Cubs fans as the front office has made it clear that they’ll be looking to upgrade their starting rotation and add a replacement for Dexter Fowler. In terms of the bullpen, there are a lot of candidates out there and speculating as to who the Cubs may pursue is a crapshoot at this point.

Stay tuned.

Cubs’ Top Five Free Agent Targets

10-171460575-smallThe Cubs just finished up what will go down as one of the more memorable seasons in recent franchise history. Yes, it ended at the hands of the hated New York Mets (again), but don’t let that take anything away from what this team did this year. Did anyone honestly expect the Cubs to make the playoffs? Maybe, maybe not. Did anyone think they’d win 97 games? Absolutely not. Yet they did, and they went on to win the NL Wild Card game and then the NLDS. There’s no way that this season can be viewed as anything less than encouraging and a sign of what may lay ahead of us down the road.

Looking down that road, it’s pretty clear that the Cubs need to add to their current roster if they truly want to contend for a World Series championship. And lucky for them, this offseason’s free agent class is pretty jam packed with star players.

Without being completely unreasonable, here’s a look at the top five players the Cubs may target this winter in order of importance.

  1. David Price: Price is one of the game’s best left-handed starting pitchers, and if it wasn’t for Clayton Kershaw, he’d likely be the best. While his career postseason numbers are less than ideal, his talent and ability to dominate any and every game make him possibly the number one free agent pitcher this offseason. The Cubs, without any doubt, must add another quality starter to their rotation. Their lack of starting depth is one reason why they were swept by the Mets. Having a 1-2-3 punch of Arrieta, Price, and Lester would be huge and scary. Add in that Price has made some comments in the past about possibly wanting to join the Cubs and reunite with Joe Maddon, and this scenario is far from unlikely.
  2. Zack Greinke: No one was expecting Greinke to be a free agent this winter, but he is after opting out of the remainder of his contract with the Dodgers. You may be asking why he isn’t ahead of Price on this list, and the reason for that is his age (Price is two years younger) and money. Greinke is likely to sign for a higher dollar amount than Price given what he just did this season, and the Cubs aren’t going to want to pay that amount if Price is still a possibility. Otherwise, they’d likely go for Greinke first. One thing is certain, however, and that is that the Cubs will not sign both Price and Greinke. If they lose out on one, they’ll pursue the other. If they sign one, they’ll give up on the other. The Cubs will go after a starting pitcher, likely one of these two, before anyone else.
  3. Dexter Fowler: Fowler is set to become a UFA, and many believe he played himself into a big contract this season. Depending on what the market becomes for Fowler and the numbers of years and dollar amounts being thrown around are, the Cubs may or may not try to re-sign him. They’ll need to sign a center fielder one way or another, whether it’s Fowler or not. They would like to bring him back, but won’t overpay him to do so.
  4. Jason Heyward: This is a tricky situation. Odds are that Heyward will get more money than Fowler, but Heyward brings a bit more to the table too. He’s not a natural center fielder, but can play the position. Whether the Cubs choose to go this route before the Fowler route remains unknown. Like Fowler though, the Cubs will not overpay for Heyward. If he’s asking for a ridiculous contract, you can count the Cubs out. It all depends on whether or not Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer believe Heyward can be a full time center fielder, and an effective one. Another thing to think about with Heyward is if the Cubs go after him over Fowler, they are now without a lead off hitter. There’s positives and negatives to Heyward.
  5. Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (27)Jordan Zimmerman: It isn’t out of the question that the Cubs could potentially sign Price or Greinke, as well as Zimmerman. He likely pitched himself out of a huge deal this year (3.66 ERA and a career high WHIP), so his price may be more affordable now than say a year ago. Signing him along with one of the two previously mentioned pitchers would give the Cubs a formidable rotation and one that could be deadly in the playoffs. If the Cubs can sign Price or Greinke, a potential Zimmerman signing could be the key offseason acquisition.

Starting pitching is one hundred percent the first area the Cubs will address this offseason. Once they sign a quality starter, they’ll likely shift their focus to a center fielder, and then back to another starting pitcher. If the Cubs are able to sign any of the three guys I listed above, that will be big. If they can sign two or even three of them, that’ll be massive. I wouldn’t rule out signing three of them either as long as the money involved isn’t an astronomical amount. Epstein, Hoyer, and Ricketts are determined to bring a World Series championship to the franchise, and they’ll go to extreme, but reasonable, measures to do so.

This should be another fun offseason for the Cubs, and it’s only the beginning.

Hamels or Price? Who the Cubs should target

cole-hamels-69fa5e2efff24ca4The MLB trade deadline is now less than a week away, meaning trade rumors are popping up left and right around the league. In the case of the Cubs, they’ve made it known that they would idealy like to add another arm to their starting rotation. Their starting pitching has been quite good this season with guys like Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Jason Hammel leading the way. Second year starter Kyle Hendricks has also performed well up to this point, but the Cubs would still like to add another solid starter to the rotation. Enter the names Hamels and Price.

It is no secret that the Philadelphia Phillies are looking to trade away Cole Hamels in return for some high end prospects as they move forward with their rebuilding process. And with the Cubs seeking another top arm, along with the fact that they possess multiple appealing trade pieces (Baez, Castro, etc.), the two teams seem like a nice fit to become trade partners.

cole-hamels-69fa5e2efff24ca4More recently, David Price’s name has started showing up in the league-wide trade winds. With Miguel Cabrera out until at least late August, if not longer, and with the Tigers currently five games back of the second wild card spot in the American League, GM Dave Dombrowski is contemplating whether to raise the white flag on the season and trade away some valuable pieces in exchange for young talent. Given the fact that David Price is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, he seems like a prime candidate to get dealt if the Tigers do in fact make the decision to give up on this season. The Cubs have naturally been one of the teams said to be interested in Price should he become available due to their desire to acquire more pitching.

So if it were to come down to picking one pitcher over the other for the Cubs, who should they make their top priority?

While on the surface most might disagree with this, the answer is Cole Hamels.

Sure, David Price is is 9-3 with a 2.31 ERA this year and Cole Hamels is 5-7 with a 3.91 ERA. Statistically, Price is the better fit for the Cubs, or any team for that matter. However, when looking at the statistics of both Price and Hamels, you should take into account the team that each one currently plays for. Hamels earned run average is higher than most would like it to be, but he’s pitching for the worst team in baseball.

The reason Hamels is the better option for the Cubs is this: He won’t be a rental player. He’s currently under contract through the 2018 season with a club option for 2019. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer has made it clear that the team is not willing to part ways with any of their top prospects in exchange for a guy like Price who could potentially sign with a different team next offseason. With Hamels, he’s guaranteed to return to the Cubs for at least three more seasons should they acquire him.

While Hamels’ ERA is slightly concerning, many believe it would improve if traded for two reasons. 1) All of this trade talk has gotten into his head and is playing a role in his performance on the field. Once traded, he’ll feel more comfortable and his statistics could/should improve. 2) If traded to the Cubs, he’ll be working with one of the game’s best pitching coaches in Chris Bosio.

With the Phillies in Chicago this weekend for a three game series at Wrigley Field, it is entirely possible that a deal between the two teams could get done by Sunday night or shortly thereafter. If the Phillies are simply asking for too much in return for Hamels, I would not expect the Cubs to overpay. They may then instead turn their attention towards a reliever and depth starter.

As for the David Price situation, I don’t think the Cubs will agressively pursue him unless they can work out a sign and trade with Detroit. If Price agrees to such a deal, he’d be the better pickup between him and Hamels. Keep in mind, however, that Price has hinted in the past at wanting to play for the Cubs and Joe Maddon (his manager in Tampa Bay). If the Cubs don’t get him at the trade deadline, they will definitely be players for him in the offseason. One benefit to signing him after the season is that they would not have to give anything up to get him like they would in a trade.

The next six days should be interesting on the North Side. The fact that we’re discussing the Cubs as potential big buyers at the deadline rather than sellers is a great feeling.