Breaking Down The Ball ClubThe primary goals of the last two years have been accomplished: lose, while acquiring talent via trades, drafts, and international signings. Some of this intentional plan was the only way to get a minor league system built up to support a longer term vision: that of winning perennially. This Cubs administration is attempting to carve out a new organization, renovate Wrigley, build new facilities and a trigger a growth in revenues.
So, why is 2014 the time and the place to finally break on through to the other side?
1) Payroll cleared in 2013. 2013 Cubs season was a fire sale. All non-on-the-field performing assets, those that could not be seen as helping the future squads (except by return of cash, prospects) were cut loose. An estimated 13.65 million was trimmed before the season ended.
2) Talent acquired. Since Theo/Jed hiring in late 2011, the Cubs have been stockpiling talent as my prior post on Girardi's fit as their 2014 manager cited.
3) Renovation, even stalled, has ad revenues being moved on. The signage will come...
4) TV contract. 2014 is the renewal for 50% of it. So, I suspect part of that negotiation is selling them on the idea of a competitive team in 2014, 2015, etc. To do so, free agent acquisitions, increased movements on minor talents are the only way to properly motivate a such rights value upward.
5) Cubs remaining payroll is rather small (under $100M), and can still with this revised 25-man roster (without overpriced FA adds I made earlier):
|1||SP||FA Pitcher: Scott Kazmir||$ 7,500,000|
|2||SP||Travis Wood||$ 3,600,000|
|3||SP||Jeff Samardzija||$ 4,900,000|
|4||SP||Edwin Jackson||$ 13,000,000|
|5||SP||Jake Arrieta||$ 1,350,000|
|6||RP||Daniel Bard||$ 1,862,500|
|7||RP||Justin Grimm||$ 550,000|
|8||RP||Carlos Villanueva||$ 5,000,000|
|9||RP||Hector Rondon||$ 550,000|
|10||RP||Fyuji Fujikawa||$ 4,500,000|
|11||RP||James Russell||$ 1,700,000|
|12||CL||Pedro Strop||$ 1,000,000|
|13||C||Welington Castillo||$ 750,000|
|14||C||FA Catcher: Brayan Pena||$ 2,500,000|
|15||1B||Anthony Rizzo||$ 1,250,000|
|16||2B||M. Ellis||$ 7,500,000|
|17||3B||Donnie Murphy||$ 1,000,000|
|18||SS||Starlin Castro||$ 5,860,000|
|19||UT||Mike Olt *||$ 525,000|
|20||UT||Luis Valbuena||$ 1,500,000|
|21||LF||Carlos Beltran||$ 10,000,000|
|22||RF||Nate Schierholtz||$ 3,800,000|
|23||CF||Junior Lake||$ 525,000|
|24||OF||Brian Bogusevic||$ 550,000|
|25||OF||Ben Zobrist||$ 7,500,000|
|Additional Contracts||$ 21,870,000|
Off-season Moves (No David Price, But the Prices Are Right)
Biggest Trade: Ben Zobrist acquired from Tampa. He is on an option year. $7.5M is pricey for a potential free agent that Tampa could parlay into prospects, and vets. Cubs could trade Darwin "No Hit, Gold Glove" Barney, Josh Vitters, and Dan Vogelbach to the Rays; maybe a starter/relief pitcher too (Chris Rusin), but then the Cubs would acquire a minor leaguer back (2B Ryan Brett) from Tampa. Vogelbach is a power hitting DH/1B that may stick get to stick in 2 seasons. Rays can employ him down the road... Vitters is another potential 3B/1B or LF, but hasn't done it yet. Vitters, at 23/24, is more a throw-in than anything else but could be potentially another Josh Donaldson acquisition made by Oakland.
2nd Trade: Acquire Kevin Plawecki from the Mets and LHP Steven Matz for 2B Arismendy Alcantara and RHP Pierce Johnson and RHP Blake Parker. Normally, prospects don't swap. But, the Mets are struggling for offense; and are losing bullpen guys Latroy Hawkins and David Aardsma. Blake Parker proved a decent option, and is cheap. Chicago gets a good prospect catcher since New York has Travis D'Arnaud now in the bigs; and a lefty starter to develop. Meanwhile, the Mets get a very good RHP prospect in Johnson and Alcantara is the highest ranked of these prospects. It is mutual value decision.
Or Option #2 (likelier): trade Gold glove winner Barney to the Mets for C Plawecki plus cash (Barney's arbitration $1-2M in 2014). Send Vogelbach, Alcantara, Rusin, and Johnson to Tampa for Zobrist. Sign Mark Ellis for 2-10M. Move Zobrist to corner OF, Szczur stays in the minors, or goes in trade to Rays, with a minor leaguer coming back from Tampa.
Note: I truly believe Plawecki will be a 10-year catcher in the bigs...and that has value for the Cubs.
Carlos Beltran, Brayan Pena, (Mark Ellis) and Scott Kazmir. Beltran has done well in Wrigley before. As a switch hitter, he provides some flexibility also. His fielding is not what it once was...but he's an offensive upgrade over the current options. He's a 2-3/30-36 million player at this stage in his career, one would hope.
Brayan Pena can be easily had for $2.5 million over 2 years - say $3.5 for 2 years; he's an ok backup, no walk guy. But the Cubs need a band aid on this one. He provides that for cheap, and could possibly surprise.
Scott Kazmir is a cheapish flier.After doing well in his rebound in Cleveland, he is an incentive player. But this works only if the Cubs are serious about competing going forward. (I think he'd want to play for a contender...) His 2013 stats were great bounce back types: 3.45 K/BB ratio. Over 9K/IP. He still is not a workhorse; just a 150IP type with improving stuff (fastball), coming back from injury.
Maybe an incentive (Innings Pitched vesting options) for 3 years. 8M in Year 1, 150IP; 10M in Year 2, 175IP; 3yr year if 325IP in total in year 1+2, 14M in Year 3. Base pay of 5M plus the incentives of 3M, 5M for seasons 1 and 2.
Kazmir, Beltran, Ellis, and Zobrist all have significant playoff experience. World Series experience. It could be the right thing to put guys on the roster that know what the post season is all about. By mid-season, call-ups could push out the Murphys, Bogesevics, and Valbuenas for the prospects itching to debut in Cubs Blue.
Total FA potential signings: 3YR/32M Kazmir; 2YR/12M Ellis; 2/28M Beltran; and 2/5M Pena plus Zobrist 2/15M. Short term competitiveness made possible by 2-3 year deals. Under 100M in 2014 signings.
Those like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Kyle Hendricks could be the boost they need.
Put Eric Wedge as the manager, latest rumored, well, I think a 80+ win team is plausible in 2014.