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 three will be posted later today. Enjoy!
Things need to change in 2012 for the Cubs to stand any chance of competing moving forward. It has been questioned if the Cubs can afford a major contract in the coming years. This will obviously negatively affect the typically -- as of late -- big spending Cubs. The following is a look at the state of the Cubs in 2012 and beyond, while also trying to formulate a plan to make the Cubs contenders as soon as possible. Again, read part one on why the Cubs should not sign Albert Pujols and a look at the Cubs minor league system. Thanks.
Free Agents and Arbitration
Kosuke Fukudome -- Free agent. Cubs will let him walk.
Carlos Pena -- Free agent. Cubs will let him walk.
John Grabow -- Free agent. Awful signing. Cubs will let him walk
Kerry Wood -- Free agent. Cubs will try to re-sign to another team friendly deal.
Reed Johnson -- Free agent. Probably will try to re-sign given success at plate this year/fan love.
Randy Wells -- First time arbitration eligible. Will be tendered a contract.
Blake DeWitt -- First time arbitration eligible. I think they will cut ties with DeWitt, but will still be cheap, so maybe not.
Geovany Soto -- Second time arbitration eligible. Will be tendered a contract, hopefully an extension.
Matt Garza -- Third time arbitration eligible. Will be tendered a contract, maybe an extension.
Jeff Baker -- Third time arbitration eligible. I think he will be tendered a contract.
Koyie HIll -- Third time arbitration eligible. Not sure. Cubs love him though. So maybe?
The Cubs rotation going into 2011 was going to be Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner. Sans a trade or Dempster somehow not picking up his $14MM player option, that will not change in 2012. Z and Demp get a year older, Garza and Wells most likely stay about the same and Cashner probably gets better. Unless they all get hurt again. Then who knows. This is probably a league average rotation. They will do okay, assuming the best, of course.
Now, lets say somehow Hendry makes a trade around the deadline (or in the off-season) and moves a pitcher, he can look forward to a free agent class led by Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, C.J. Wilson and the 37-year-old Hiroki Kuroda. Yikes.
I don't see Buehrle, Kuroda or Wilson leaving their current teams and is Jackson really an upgrade over what is currently on the Cubs? There will be some other interesting names out there, all with some drama of there own: Justin Duchscherer (injury prone), Jeff Francis (injury prone), Rich Harden (injury prone) and Brandon Webb (injury prone) to name a few. Regardless, I do not see the Cubs rotations improving (much) in 2012.
2013 is a different story and where I think the Cubs should spend. A lot. More on that in Part Three.
Ramirez has a $16MM mutual/vesting option that will kick in if he wins the NL or NLCS MVP. Neither will happen. He can also opt out of the contract free of charge. That will not happen either. What will happen is the Cubs will buy out the contract for $2MM. This leaves a gaping hole at third, as there is no quick fix at 3B for the Cubs in the farm. All options will be a year or two away by that point. Furthermore, there isn't a viable 3B option in the free agency market either.
The Cubs can fill in 3B with existing players like Blake DeWitt and/or Jeff Baker (if they tender them contracts) or re-sign Aramis on a "pillow contract" similar to what Carlos Pena signed (probably for less than $10MM) or maybe a two-year deal worth even less annually, giving the Cubs farm system time to catch up. I think one of the latter two is likely to happen, as Ramirez loves Chicago and he is -- despite Wilson Betemit's hot start -- the best third base option available in the 2012 free agent class.
Like the rotation, not a whole lot will change. John Grabow is gone for sure. Kerry Wood is also a free agent, but hopefully will re-sign for another team friendly deal. The Cubs could use another reliable arm down there outside of Carlos Marmol, Wood and Sean Marshall. Hopefully, whoever is GM doesn't go crazy on the likes of Jonathan Papelbon or Heath Bell or something crazy like that because he has the money. However, Ryan Madson would be cool.
Kosuke Fukudome is gone. With him goes his $12MM annual salary. That is good. I really really do not want to see the Cubs spend big here. Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Josh Willingham and Ryan Ludwick are some free agent options, but the Cubs do have good outfield prospects in the minors. Maybe if they can get a "pillow contract" out of one of those names, I would be okay with a signing, but I do not see that happening. I would prefer if the Cubs would save money here, maybe platooning Baker, Reed Johnson and Tyler Colvin (can we agree he is a fourth outfielder already?) or whoever the hot prospect is next year.
Pena will be gone. The whole Pujols vs. Fielder debates will begin. I honestly don't see Pujols leaving the Cards and, as I mentioned in Part One, I do not think he is right for the Cubs. Chicago has a few platoon options available to them, much like in right field, but no immediate fix in the minors. There are some intriguing free agents outside of the big two -- Lance Berkman and Michael Cuddyer stick out.
Staying The Same
Starlin Castro at short. Darwin Barney at second. Geovany Soto behind the plate. Marlon Byrd in center. Alfonso Soriano in right. Carlos Marmol closing.
Read Part One. Part Three will be posted later today and will discuss what Z.W. Martin thinks the Cubs should do in 2012 and 2013.