This is the second post of a two-part series addressing possible free-agent signings for the Cubs entering the 2013 season. This article addresses FA position players, the first article covers FA pitchers…
The Cubs have several key holes to fill around the diamond this winter in hopes of fielding a more competitive team in 2013. For starters, there’s a gaping hole at third base. The outfield is thin and so is the catching depth.
Although the Cubs recently added some quality and promising prospects to its lower-level minor leagues, most of these guys are years away from reaching the majors, if in fact, they even make it that far.
That means the Cubs will need to forgo the in-house options in favor of the free agent route. And as I mentioned in Part One: Chicago will be targeting mid-level FA to supplement its big league depth.
Below is a list of several FA the Cubs could sign this offseason to help transition the team from pretender to contender. (Player age listed in parenthesis)
-Ronny Paulino (32): A career journeyman behind the dish. His eight-years in the bigs have seen him play anywhere from 133-games in a season to just 20-games with the Orioles this year before being outrighted to Triple-A in July. Like so many of his peers, Paulino’s defense has kept in the league more than his bat: career .272/.324/.376. But for $1M or less, Paulino’s a likeable fill-gap option to complement Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger.
The thing to keep in mind about the crop of free-agent third basemen is that it’s largely comprised of guys on the very back end of their careers. Basically, the pickings are slim, at best.
-Maicer Izturis (32): It’s virtually a lock Josh Vitters will begin next season at Triple-A Iowa (.093/.148/.200). Bringing back Ian Stewart, if healthy, could be one option, but why waste money on Stewart’s untapped potential if the Cubs can land a more proven veteran like Izturis? Although Macier is only a slightly above-average fielder, he does bring the ability to play multiple infield positions, which he’s done for the better part of his nine-year career (3B: 290 games, 2B: 242 games & SS: 191 games). He’s not the ideal power-bat you want at a corner infield position, averaging 7 HR & 60 RBI over 162-games, but he is an automatic upgrade over Vitters and Stewart, with a price tag well within reason of $3-4M. That’s also an affordable insurance policy if Castro or Barney were to be lost for any length of time due to injury.
Almora, Jackson & Soler has a nice ring to it, but who knows if that day will ever come for the Cubs’ outfield. What we do know is that won’t happen in 2013. Jackson, of course, is no guarantee himself to be on the Opening Day roster next season. Almora and Soler, meanwhile, are at least two years away from making their big league debuts. Even if BJax makes the team out of spring training, this outfield still needs some depth. And am I the only one getting the feeling Alfonso Soriano is as good as gone this winter?
-BJ Upton (28): Hard to believe Upton is already in his eighth season with Tampa Bay, and even harder to believe we’re still waiting for his break-out year offensively. But what Upton has accomplished with the Rays is far better than what the Cubs currently have in its outfield. Despite not delivering on his ever-expected break-out season, Upton still averages 20 HR & 75 RBI per season. And since transitioning from SS to 3B to LF to CF (2008), Upton has also grown better defensively along the way.
While many have given up hope Upton becomes that 30 HR, 100 RBI guy we once thought he would be, there are certain to be teams willing to pay him in excess of his actual market value for what he still might become as a hitter. As it is, even a deal based on Upton’s current track record may prove too pricy for Team Theo’s tastes. With Upton entering his prime years, however, I’d have to believe the Cubs would at least explore the possibility of landing him, especially if the Cubs can move Soriano this winter and Upton’s asking price stays below $10M. It’s not the likeliest signing for the Cubs, but offering a 2 or 3-year deal with the option to trade Upton before his early 30’s would be awfully sweet.
-Grady Sizemore (30): A three-time All Star, two-time Gold Glove Award winner, a Silver Slugger Award and a four-time recipient of AL MVP votes. So what’s the catch? A long list of nagging and major injuries, that’s what. Sizemore has been plagued by significant injury setbacks over the past four seasons, including having sat out this year entirely. Yet, we’ve seen what Sizemore can do when healthy. And while it’s fair to imagine his latest knee and back aliments will limit him from being the player he once was, there’s an equally good chance he could still be pretty darn good. The best part is the Cubs won’t need to take much of a financial risk to find out. Grady is expected to fetch a one-year incentive-laden deal this offseason. That’s perfect for the Cubs to jump at the chance to upgrade its outfield depth and potentially land what could be a lucrative trade chip come July 31 next season. It’s a classic buy-low, sell-high move with no guaranteed money involved. The hardest part, of course, is the Cubs will have plenty of competition to sign his services.
-Cody Ross (32): It’s a bit puzzling Cody hasn’t found a permanent home having played for six different teams during his nine-year career. He’s an above average fielder who plays all three outfield spots well. He’s averaged 22 HR per-season and has driven in as many as 90 RBI. Ross has also shown a knack for hitting in the clutch, won the 2010 NLCS MVP Award and was a huge factor during the Giants’ World Series championship. What Ross doesn’t do particularly well is draw walks. Instead, he’s been somewhat of a strikeout master having averaged 126 K’s per-season. That, obviously, is in direct contrast to the patient hitting approach Team Theo is seeking to add to the Cubs’ roster. But, is it possible a proven winner like Ross would be willing to adapt to the Cubs’ new grind-it-out plate mentality? I think so. Although, that’s a super risky proposition–paying a player with the notion he’ll need to change his game when neither side can be certain of the outcome. But the risk sure beats seeing Joe Mather in the lineup, especially for what could be an affordable 1 or 2-year deal in the range of $3M.
-Reed Johnson (36): I know what you’re thinking…I’m a Cubs softy thinking with my heart instead of my brain. That may be true to some degree, but there are positives you can’t ignore about Johnson despite his old age. He’s the upmost professional who plays the game the right way and sets a positive example for not just the younger guys, but for all his fellow teammates. Yes, his body has been worn ragged over the years with his all-out style of play, which limits his everyday availability. But…we do know Reed loves playing for the Cubs, and we know the youthful Cubs need leadership, and we’ve seen Johnson develop into one of the best, if not the best, pinch-hitters in the game. His positive impact on the team would far exceed what the Cubs would have to pay to bring him back, and even so, it would only need to be for one more year.