This is the first of a two-part series addressing possible free-agent signings for the Cubs’ entering the 2013 season. This article addresses FA pitchers, the second article covers FA position players…
Eventually, Tom Ricketts will open his wallet and invite the game’s top free-agents to join the Cubs. But until Team Theo builds Ricketts’ team into a contender, which will take a few more years, the free-agent ‘A-listers’ remain a pie in the sky.
In the meantime, however, the Cubs will look to sign mid-tier free-agents to round out its roster for the 2013 season. Below is a list of potential FA that could fit the Cubs’ needs for next season. (Player age listed in parenthesis)
-Brandon McCarthy (29): Career record (37-39, 4.02) He’s statistically improved with age while becoming somewhat of a stat-head paying close attention to sabermetrics, which shouldn’t hurt his chances with the Cubs’ new front office. The Cubs could land him with a deal similar to what they gave Paul Maholm last year: 1-yr, $4.75M with a club option, that is, assuming McCarthy returns to full health following his recent emergency brain surgery after being hit in the head on a come-backer.
-Anibal Sanchez (29): Career record (46-50, 3.79). The high price tag of $8.0M he’s due this season isn’t in the Cubs’ favor, and they shouldn’t spend as much on a guy who’s been good, but mostly inconsistent throughout his career. But if the price is right, the Cubs could find a pitcher with his best days still ahead.
-Chris Young (34): Career record (53-41, 3.81). The tall right-hander (6′ 10″) hasn’t been the same since Albert Pujols lined a ball off his face in May of 2008. Additionally, Young’s been hampered by arm injuries limiting his starts to just 25-games over the past three seasons. There’s definitely some risk with signing him, but he is affordable and could be had for less than a million bucks.
I view the bullpen as the Cubs’ greatest area of need entering next season. I’ve listed the possible FA candidates by age.
-JP Howell (28): Career record (21-23, 4.42). In 2008 the Rays transitioned Howell from the rotation to the bullpen, the results of which, have been promising. The lefty has been a key cog in Tampa’s pen and shows signs he’ll only get better. After a disappointing year in 2011 (6.16 ERA), Howell has bounced back to form this year posting a 2.89 ERA. A lefty like this won’t come on the cheap, but with the kid entering his prime a multi-year deal around $6M could get the deal done.
-Carlos Villanueva (29): Career record (33-33, 4.14) He’s the rare, but convenient, starter/reliever type that could make sense for Chicago. He’s made 13 spot-starts in each of the past two seasons while also being a serviceable arm in the bullpen. A deal of $3 M or less wouldn’t be bad for utility arm like Villanueva’s.
-Matt Capps (29): He saved 42-games between Washington and Minnesota two years ago, but shoulder inflammation has burdened him since 2011 and squashed the Twins’ hopes of trading him this past July. The Cubs would be buying low and at a risk; and anything more than $2M is probably too much to fork over. Whether or not Capps remains closer material is up for debate, but the Cubs do need someone to close if they still intend to deal Marmol this winter.
-Brandon League (30): He saved 37-games last season and made the All Star team for Seattle. The Mariners traded League to the Dodgers this July where’s he’s performing on-par with his 2011 season. He’s likely going to cost more than what the Cubs want to spend, especially to join the rebuild, but for $5M or less Chicago could pull the trigger.
-Mark Lowe (30): Injuries have plagued the Rangers’ right-hander the past two seasons. He has, however, rebounded nicely posting a 2.61 ERA over 34-games in 2012. His injury history may limit his price enough the Cubs could land him with a deal around $2M.
-Ramon Ramirez (31): Career record (23-20, 3.32). A rolling stone; Mets, Rockies, Royals, Red Sox and now the Giants. Surprising because he’s been good for around 70-games and 60-innings throughout his career. Consistency appears to be an issue, but a rubber-arm like his would be awfully valuable to the Cubs for $3M or less.
-Francisco Rodriguez (31): Career 2.71 ERA & 294 saves. His second season in Milwaukee has been the worst of his career (2-7, 4.37). After leaving Anaheim to sign his mega-deal with the Mets paying him $12M, the Brewers chopped it to $8M last season in a surprising move to resign K-Rod, who expressed his unhappiness as a set-up man to John Axford. Milwaukee won’t make the same mistake twice, and given his poor season, the Cubs could also try cutting his pay. I’ve got to believe K-Rod is better than he’s shown this season, and for $6M it’s a chance the Cubs should take to give K-Rod the closer’s role.
-Clay Hensley (33): He’s been hot & cold during his tenure with the Marlins and Giants. A 2.16 ERA in 2010 preceded his 5.19 ERA last season. This year he’s (4-3, 4.37). Hensley’s not the sexiest pick on the list, but he’s certainly within the Cubs’ price range for $1M or less.
-Mike Adams (34): He’s been a stud throughout his eight-year career. Although his age is a concern, it wouldn’t hurt the Cubs’ young bullpen to have a veteran around the likes of Adams. The hard part is, Adams has been so good for Texas the past two season, it’s hard to believe he would sign with a rebuilding franchise. I’m guessing he’ll fetch somewhere around $7-9M, and likely more to be enticed to join the Cubs. Not likely, of course, but if age keeps other contenders from giving Adams the deal he wants, the Cubs could splurge some to land him. A huge coup if it were to happen.
-Juan Cruz (34): Yes, the former Cub! (2001-’03). He pitched really well for Tampa last season in 58-games (5-0, 3.88). And this season he’s been a major contributor for the Pirates’ strong bullpen appearing in 43-games going (1-1, 2.78). Cruz is probably looking at a deal worth $2-3M, which is within the Cubs’ budget for a mid-level FA. It might take more to get him to join a 100-loss team, but the price would be well worth it for a reliable short-term fix.
-Jeremy Affeldt (34): He’s an 11-year veteran and good clubhouse guy who’s certain to field plenty of offers because, well, he’s left-handed. Affeldt’s averaged 60-plus games per-season since 2007 and put up terrific numbers the past two season with San Francisco: 2.63 ERA 2011 & 2.65 ERA this year. I expect Affeldt to land a deal more than $5M, and at his age it’s unlikely he wants to join the lowly Cubs. At best, it’s a stretch to think the Cubs would even get a meeting with his agent this winter…unless they’re willing to over-spend to get him, which doesn’t make sense, but could happen. Good left-handed relief is hard to find, and aside from James Russell, the Cubs really don’t have any.
-Mike Gonzalez (35): We saw plenty of this guy while he broke in with the Pirates to start his career. Ever since, however, the hard-throwing lefty has battled injuries which ultimately limited him to just 7-games with the Rangers in 2011 before undergoing knee surgery. He’s made a nice recovery with the Nationals this season posting a 2.73 ERA in 39-games, and like Affeldt, he’s older, but left-handed, which means there should be plenty of good offers available. But being long in the tooth with a history of nagging injuries should keep his price tag under $6M. That’s probably more than the Cubs are willing to spend, but again, he’s a solid southpaw and the Cubs need all the help they can get for its patch-work bullpen–even if it comes with some risk.