It’s hard to believe baseball’s regular season ends Sunday and teams will be in off-season mode by Monday morning, but that is the case. For the first time in seven years the Cubs will play beyond game 162. As the cliché goes, once a team is in the dance anything can happen.
With the conclusion of the regular season quickly approaching, rumors have picked up in recent days. And the Cubs are expected to be rather busy this off-season.
Winning, an exciting young team, Joe Maddon and the new facilities at Wrigley Field will help attract free agents the team might have not been able to sign in previous years. The Cubs are expected to focus on pitching this off-season, more than position players, with David Price at the top of the front office’s free agent list.
Spending big money on just any free agent would not seem to fit with the front office’s plan, but if Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer or Joe Maddon has a history with a player, like Jon Lester, and knows his work ethic and character, the Cubs have shown they will make a long-term commitment to that player.
The Cubs are expected to focus heavily on adding starting pitching this off-season. Reports have suggested the front office will look to add at least two pitchers, a top of the rotation starter and another that would be considered as a mid-rotation starter. The Cubs will explore free agents and trade options to add pitching. Plus, help in the bullpen figures to be on the front office’s off-season list. The Cubs have not been linked to any relievers yet.
David Price is believed to be at the top of the Cubs free agent list. The Cubs have been preparing for Price to hit free agency for several years and with Joe Maddon in the dugout, the fit is better than it was a year ago. Price loves Toronto but the Blue Jays might not have enough room in the budget for Price and what could be at least a $30 million AAV on a six-seven year deal. Price also has a strong connection with Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers are expected to make a big push to sign the lefty.
Price will not be connected to draft pick compensation but it’s likely he flies past Clayton Kershaw’s contract (seven years, $215 million).
The Cubs have been linked to RHP Jordan Zimmermann for the last two years and he is believed to be just under Price on the Cubs list. Zimmermann had a down year and will not cost nearly as much as Price and would fit in nicely behind Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in the rotation.
John Lackey was connected to the Cubs during the season. Lackey is not only good friends with Jon Lester, but has a history with Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon. If the Cardinals let him leave, he could be one of the mid-rotation options the Cubs look to sign.
Another free-agent to be that has been connected to the Cubs is Jeff Samardzija. The White Sox are expected to make him a qualifying offer and if they do it is hard to see the Cubs signing him. The Cubs would lose their first round pick in June’s Draft, but more importantly the first round slot money. Samardzija has a great relationship with Chris Bosio and rumors have suggested he would welcome a return to the Cubs.
Nick Cafardo, who is very tied in with the Cubs’ front office, recently reported the Cubs could go the trade route to add two starting pitchers this off-season. Cafardo pointed out the Cubs match up well with the Indians and Mets.
The front office talked to the Indians about Carlos Carrasco leading up to the deadline and is expected to re-engage those conversations this off-season. Tyson Ross is also high on the Cubs’ list and it’s believed the Cubs came very close to acquiring Ross before the deadline. Once A.J .Preller decides the direction he is going to take the Padres, the Cubs could rekindle those talks with Preller about Ross.
If the Cubs sign or trade for bullpen arms this winter, don’t look for the front office to spend big for a relief pitcher. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer do not have a history of signing free agent relievers to long-term, big money contracts. A contract for a relief pitcher longer that one year with a team or vesting option for a second year is not a smart investment.
Depending on how the front office addresses the team’s pitching needs, the Cubs do not have many open spots in the field in which to fill. Even if players deal with sophomore slumps, there is a lot of depth on the 40-man roster and in the system.
The Cubs are expected to make a qualifying offer to Dexter Fowler. If Fowler turns it down and signs elsewhere, the Cubs will be looking for a short-term fix in center. Reports this week indicated Kris Bryant could be the one-year solution in center field so players can continue their development in the minors.
Re-signing Austin Jackson is also a possibility according to the Tribune. And multiple reports have connected free agent to be Denard Span to the Cubs.
The Cubs were reportedly interested in trading for Span last year. But the Nationals decided to go all out for this season before he has sports hernia surgery in December. Span could not stay on the field this year. After beginning the season on the shelf recovering from right core muscle surgery, back tightness/spasms cost him seven weeks of the season. And soon after he was activated, Span was back on the DL with left hip inflammation. Span had hip surgery on Sept. 1, which has a four to six month recovery.
Span recently switched agents and is now represented by Scott Boras. Span will likely sign a one-year contract with a low base and heavy on incentives in order to rebuild his value. And the Cubs might be a good fit in center and at the top of the lineup for one season.
As was the case last off-season and again this summer, Ben Zobrist will be linked heavily to the Cubs until he signs with another team. The Cubs tried to acquire Zobrist from Tampa before he was dealt to Oakland and again before the Royals traded for him.
Ben Zobrist is one of Joe Maddon’s favorites but he could end up exceeding the value the Cubs will place on him, just like Russell Martin did.
The Cubs main focus right now is preparing for the Wild Card Game against the Pirates. The deeper the Cubs play into October will only make the off-season more interesting.