5 Burning Questions for the Chicago Cubs offseason

League Championship Series - New York Mets v Chicago Cubs - Game Three

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5.) Who plays center-field?

Dexter Fowler played center for the Cubs in 2015, and earned $9.5 million for his efforts. Fowler hit the ball well in the leadoff spot, and gave the Cubs a .250/.346/.411 line with 17 home runs and 46 RBIs. He also topped 20 stolen bases for the first time since 2009. Fowler was a good captain of the outfield, and handled the tricky Wrigley Field winds well. The Cubs did not surround Fowler with the most outstanding defensive corner outfielders, but he compensated nicely. Fowler will get a bump in salary and a multi-year deal, but most likely with a different team.

That leaves the Cubs in need of a center fielder. Austin Jackson, who the Cubs traded for in August, is a possibility. Jackson’s market in free agency will not be as robust as Fowler’s. The Cubs may even be able to get him back on a two-year deal. Fowler and Jackson are very similar players (Fowler is actually Jackson’s number one comparable player according to Baseball-Reference’s similarity score — 956 is pretty darn similar). Jackson is coming off a weaker year than Fowler, and has now played for four teams in the past two years. Jackson would be an unexciting re-signing for the Cubs.

A more interesting name to consider is Javier Baez. The middle infielder could be converted to center-field with a little practice. He’s open to the idea, and is on record saying so. Baez is athletic enough to learn the outfield. It may not be the prettiest thing in the world the first few months, but it can’t be any worse than Alfonso Soriano. Wrigley Field is not huge, and a converted infielder with enough athletic ability should acquit himself well tracking down flies.

2 Responses

  1. DancingInPDX

    Nice piece Josh. I guess the over-arching question I have: what is the Cubs’ strategy for starting pitching, both short and long term? What’s clear is that the Cubs don’t have any sure-thing starters coming up through their system – even our top pitching prospects aren’t elite. So the two options are obviously FA signings or trades, or some combination.

    The prevailing assumption is that the Cubs will go after Price or some other elite FA SP, spending $200M over 6 years, or something like that. The benefit is that we’ll have 2 years of an exceptional 1-2-3 punch in our rotation. But after that we have problems. Arrieta becomes a free agent, and until the massive Tribune bankruptcy debt comes off the books and the new TV contract(s) kick in, both in 2020, it doesn’t seem feasible the Cubs can hold onto him. What’s more, Lester and Price (presumably) will be squarely in their declining years, while burning $50M annually.

    What’s more, what is the actual amount of value a 30yo SP like Price will provide over 6-7 years, in terms of WAR? Now compare that to the same amount of money being spent on, say, Jason Heyward? At 26 Heyward is likely to average a WAR of over 6.0 for the next 6 years. Compare that to David Price who’s WAR has averaged less than 3.0 over the past 5 years, and will certainly decline.

    My point is, if we’re going to spend $200M on someone, why not get Heyward for 8 years, most of which will be prime years? In so doing it frees up another one of our elite and cheap position players to be traded for a cheap and controllable arm. Between Baez, Soler, Almora, Happ, McKinney and Torres, we should have enough young talent to bring in Carrasco and one other mid-20’s pitching stud.

    Financially the two options are equivalent, but the long-term value of the second option is far superior, in my view.

    Reply
    • Joshua Sadlock

      Maybe none of that will matter when the Cubs have their own TV netork ;)

      http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/columnists/ct-cubs-cable-network-sullivan-baseball-spt-1112-20151111-column.html

      Now, getting back to business, it’s hard to predict what exactly the Cubs will do with Arrieta. He’s a Boras guy, and Boras is not one to negotiate extensions before free agency. He may make an exception in Arrieta’s case given the backstory. Still think the Cubs would like to see one more year out of him before committing big time.

      Your point about Lester and Price is a good one. Hated the Lester signing last year (or at least the value of the contract). Lester just seems like a guy who is getting by on his reputation with the Red Sox. Seems like a two being paid like a one who will be a three in another year (still being paid like a one!). Not sure I see the same drop off coming with Price. Who knows.

      Heyward is an interesting name. There are probably all kinds of regression models out there that can tell you whether Heyward or Price is the better investment. I don’t know what you’re getting from Heyward either though, necessarily. Is he the guy who had a good year for the Cardinals or the guy who had a really good rookie year for the Braves and then struggled? Lot of uncertainty with him before you commit to 8 years and $200 million. I think for what the Cubs really need, starting pitching, Price is a better investment than Heyward. In an ideal world, the Cubs would be able to get Alex Gordon for four years, but the market will likely dictate that he’s a five year player.

      Reply

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