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.

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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.