With RHP James Shields deciding to sign with the Padres, it appears the Cubs’ roster is pretty much set for this offseason, aside from a probable trade of Welington Castillo (and possible trade of Travis Wood) at some point.
So now that we can stop dreaming of a Jon Lester/James Shields one-two punch, it leaves the Cubs’ starting rotation picture looking like this: Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks, and a battle royale for the final spot — featuring Wood (if not traded), Tsuyoshi Wada, Jacob Turner, Edwin Jackson and Felix Doubront.
I’m probably most interested in seeing Turner get a shot because I think he has the best potential upside, but we’ll see what happens.
In regard to the Cubs’ No. 2, Bruce Levine writes that the Cubs are looking for Arrieta to top 200 innings this season. 2014 was a breakout year for the right-hander and he was fantastic.
But he missed more than a month to begin the season, ending up with 156.2 innings pitched — a career high. If Arrieta can continue last year’s dominance over a full season, it should still be a great top of the rotation — even if it’s not Lester/Shields.
Let’s just hope that happens.
Reactions to the Shields pursuit
What did the late-in-the-game pursuit of James Shields show us?
For one, writes Jesse Rogers, the Cubs have money. Even though they were ultimately outbid, the Cubs put in a legit offer. And that was on top of an already-busy offseason.
The Cubs also likely thought a three-year deal would fit nicely into their long-term plans, according to Ken Rosenthal, as the contract would be expiring around the time some of the team’s top hitting prospects would be eligible for arbitration.
It may have worked out for the best in the end, considering the list of prized free-agent pitchers available next offseason (David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann, et al) — although it’s not a certainty the Cubs couldn’t have gone for one in addition to Shields. However, Rosenthal wonders if the Cubs may again target someone willing to take a shorter deal, such as Jeff Samardzija, Ian Kennedy, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister or Mat Latos.
It’s an interesting thought, and one that would match up with the Cubs’ philosophy of being leery of long-term deals for pitchers. They took the chance with Lester because they know him well. But they still view the long-term contract as a risk.
Will they be willing to do the same with someone like Price or Zimmermann? I’m not so sure.
The Cole Hamels possibility
Then, of course, rather than sign another megadeal for a pitcher, the Cubs could acquire someone via trade — like Cole Hamels. The lefty ace has been linked to the Cubs many times since last season when they put in a waiver claim for Hamels, ultimately ending with the Phillies pulling him back off waivers.
Bruce Levine suggested that the Cubs could return to this possibility now that they have lost out on James Shields. Levine points out that the Cubs could afford the remainder of Hamels’ contract, and that they have the types of prospects the Phillies are looking for in return.
Levine says one of the Cubs’ shortstops could be dangled to replace Jimmy Rollins, and Welington Castillo could also be of interest.
For me, I don’t include any of the shortstops (Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Addison Russell) in a trade for Hamels. And you can add Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber to that list too.
I’m just not sure the Phillies would agree to a deal without any of those players.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark writes that Hamels will likely remain with the Phillies — for now — according to GM Ruben Amaro Jr., but “it can change.” I suppose it’s possible Hamels is traded before the season, but I get the feeling he will be moved at this year’s trade deadline — that’s my guess.
* FanGraphs has a look at the back end of the Cubs bullpen, particularly how good it was in 2014. The Cubs’ late-innings trio of Neil Ramirez, Pedro Stop and Hector Rondon could be considered top-5 next year. And although some regression can be expected (especially in the home-run department, in which the three pitchers surrendered only six combined last year), the article compares Rondon’s fastball to Royals’ stud reliever Kelvin Herrera’s, Ramirez’s fastball to Sean Doolittle’s, and Strop’s slider to, well, nobody’s slider because it’s in a world of its own. Throw in the Jason Motte acquisition (another elite reliever if he can return to pre-injury form), and the Cubs’ bullpen could be downright scary next season.
* Mike Olt sees himself as the Opening Day starter at third base, writes Carrie Muskat. Olt had a rough season after winning the starting job at third last year. He was sent down to Iowa in July after hitting only .139 and struggling to make contact. Olt admits he lost confidence during the season, but that his time in the minors was the “best thing” for him. He likely won’t be the long-term option this upcoming season, with Kris Bryant expected to be up to the big club at some point early in the season. But it would be a good story if Olt can stick with the team and provide some depth. He’s definitely easy to root for.
* An interesting perspective of how far the Wrigley Field bleachers will be sticking out onto Waveland and Sheffield:
The Cubs also have shared a video on the progress of some of the renovations. Has some neat shots, so it’s worth a look.