During this three part piece, Z.W. Martin will look at the Cubs future, -- at the major and minor league level -- tell you why they should not sign Albert Pujols and give his recommendations for the Cubs moving forward. Part One. Part Two. Enjoy!
What I would do...
...assuming the Cubs have around $130 million to play with (down roughly $5 million or so from 2011) and will be around $73 million in committed salary before arbitration (including Dempster's player option and Ramirez's buyout). MLBTR thinks the Cubs will have roughly $17 million in arbitration dollars to dole out (link above). I think it will be closer to $20 million adding Hill and Baker to the equation. Therefore, I put the Cubs payroll at about $93 million going into the off-season, all in. This gives the Cubs around $37 million to mess around with in 2012.
After re-signing Wood and Johnson, the Cubs should still have enough to maybe go after a high quality relief guy for $3 million or so. I mentioned Madson in Part Two out of a man-crush, but he will probably need at least three years and $4-5 million per, so probably not an option if they do want to make a play at Pujols or Fielder...
Saying that, I think there are only two options from here: sign Fielder or don't.
...will plug the whole the Cubs need at first for probably seven years, or when Fielder turns 34-years-old. You get his prime and maybe a down year or two. For a man that is consistently called out for being fat and prone to breakdowns, Prince has played at least 157 games every year. On the very negative, he will cost around $25-30 million a year.
Continually, this move will leave the Cubs vulnerable at third, right and in the rotation for 2012. The Cubs can either play a giant game of musical chairs, platooning their very flexible bench and system at the two defensive positions or maybe find a cheap, one-year signing on the FA market. Someone like Erik Hinske.
This will also give the Cubs around $41.5 million (before arbitration) to navigate with in 2013 after Dempster, Byrd, Marshall and Zambrano's contracts come off the books after 2012. The Cubs will still have holes in right, center, third and in the rotation. I will say they have about $30 million left after arb cases.
The following names are why I am not 100% sold on signing Fielder. They also happen to makeup a lot of the 2013 free agent class: Josh Hamilton, Delmon Young, BJ Upton, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carlos Quentin, David Wright (team option), Mark Reynolds (team option), Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Anibal Sanchez, Shaun Marcum, Jared Weaver and Francisco Liriano. Those are the ones that stick out to me.
Now, who would I consider?
OF: Delmon Young, BJ Upton, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier
3B: David Wright (team option)
SP: Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Anibal Sanchez, Shaun Marcum, Jared Weaver and Francisco Liriano (if he is the Liriano of old)
$30 million will probably get you one, maybe two of these players at the most, if you mix and match right. Probably a B pitcher and a B OF at most. But that is the risk you are taking by signing Fielder. Furthermore, many of these players will sign extension with their respected teams before they hit the market, so who knows really. However, it is quite promising, isn't it? Signing Prince will also force the Cubs to use their system -- probably Josh Vitters at 3B, Brett Jackson in OF and Trey McNutt in the rotation -- a year earlier than maybe anticipated.
Not signing Fielder...
...will leave the Cubs with about $30 million to play with and holes in the rotation, at third and first. I do not like the 2012 free agent class at all. It is very weak, -- particularly on the hill -- but does allow for some hole filling. The Cubs can re-sign Ramirez to a one-year deal for about what Lance Berkman got at $8 million this season. From there, the Cubs could lock up either Berkman himself to a two-year deal totaling roughly $20 million (similar to Aubrey Huff's deal) or maybe lock up Michael Cuddyer (33 after season) to a two or three-year deal around $20-30 million. Both can play first and corner OF, giving the Cubs some flexibility and medium length solutions through, at least, 2013.
This saves the Cubs around $10 million in 2012 and allows them to sign a top shelf reliever if they so chose for another $2 million (Madson!). After the season, -- assuming they push the $8 million saved from 2012 to 2013 -- this would give the Cubs an additional $16 million to spend on the epic free agent class of 2013, totally about $46 million (very roughly). However the Cubs played it in this scenario, they are instant contenders with a balance of youth, age and prime players throughout the lineup.
Potential Lineup - 2013 (mix and match yourself, reader. It's fun!)
1) Jackson, CF 1) Greinke
2) Castro, SS 2) Sanchez
3) Ethier, RF 3) Garza
4) Cuddyer, 1B 4) Cashner
5) Soriano, LF 5) Wells
6) Vitters, 3B 6) McNutt
7) Soto, C
8) Barney, 2B
The Third Way
Then again, the Cubs could get lucky, sign Pujols and win the whole f*cking thing. But probably not. It is the Cubs after all.