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.

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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.