Offseason Outlook: Chicago Cubs

The 2013 Chicago Cubs had their ups and downs, but mainly downs. After a 66-96 record, manager Dale Sveum was fired earlier this month. It was the second straight 95+ loss campaign. Also, a giant development, or lack thereof, was made of the regression of shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Both of these two rising young stars had steps back in their development and their numbers suffered because of it. Looking towards 2014, there are some questions about the team and who will be playing up on the big league team. This is going to be an off-season preview for the 2014 Chicago Cubs.

First order of business: Get a manager.

When the Cubs fired Dale Sveum, rumors around the industry was that they were going to have free agent to be, Joe Girardi, at the top of their wish list. Throughout the process of Girardi talking with the Yankees for an extension, the front office team of Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein continued to search for a “back-up” plan. Since Girardi decided to stay with the Yankees for four years, now the search moves to some intriguing names. A couple names that are at the top of the list are Manny Acta, who is the current General Manager of the Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Winter League and former Nationals and Indians manager; Rick Renteria, the Padres’ bench coach, and AJ Hinch, the Padres VP of professional scouting and former Diamonbacks manager. Personally, any one of these candidates would be good. Acta has managerial experience and is very good with the Latino players, which serves will for Castro and top prospect, Javier Baez. Renteria also is a highly touted coach and good with the young Hispanic players.  Hinch has managerial experience and is good at developing young players, as he is a VP of professional scouting. The Cubs are also waiting for the World Series to end so they can interview Boston bench coach Torey Luvollo. As of now, the USA Today has reported this past week that Renteria is the front runner for the job.

Next job: Free Agents.

The Cubs are not going to be players for Robinson Cano or any of the big name free agents. It just isn’t going to happen. This front office will not spend the big bucks on the prize of the market, yet. Maybe in a few years when there is an intriguing name that can fill a hole that will put the Cubs over the top. For 2014, look for more signings like last offseason. They already locked up Ryan Sweeney this month. An interesting rumor came out about the Cubs wanting to spend big on a catcher. I don’t believe they will. Welington Castillo is their catcher of the future and had a very productive 2013. They are more likely to sign a backup catcher, like Dioner Navarro last year. As I said before, the Cubs will not spend on a big name free agent, but the most likely one they will look into is Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka is 24 and pitched for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japan Pacific League for the last 7 seasons. 2013 was the best year of his career, going 20-0 with a 1.24 ERA while striking out 155 and only walking 27 in 181 innings pitched.  This is a long shot, but the front office will attempt to pry him from going to a high spending team, like the Red Sox, Yankees, or Dodgers. Besides that, the Cubs will try to sign a few guys with high ceilings that have under-performed, which the front office has looked at in the past. These low cost guys have filled the roster up the last two years, guys like Nate Schierholtz, Scott Baker, and Scott Feldman.

David Price rumors?

Possibly the biggest pitcher on the market, David Price, has been rumored to be traded this off season from the Rays. The team that has came up the most of acquiring the left-hander is the Chicago Cubs. The Rays have done this before with a big time pitcher, but the price will be steep. Remember last offseason when James Shields was traded from Tampa Bay to Kansas City for their top prospect, Wil Myers. That trade has worked out for both sides but Myers looks like he is on his way to winning Rookie of the Year in the AL and a fantastic career. I believe if the Cubs would want to get Price from the Rays, they would have to package around one of their “big four” prospects. These prospects include Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, and Kris Bryant. Along with one of these four and probably a B-level prospect as well. The odds of the Cubs want to trade one of these prospects is not very high, so I don’t think that a trade for Price will happen for the Cubs.

The development of Top Prospects

The Cubs, the past years, have been known for their big prospects coming through the system. Many of them are playing in the Arizona Fall League and performing quite well. Three of the “big four” are down in Mesa playing for the Soler Sox. Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, and Jorge Soler are the three prospects. The only one not participating, Javier Baez, declined because he was out of gas after playing through a season of high-A and AA. Another interesting thing to look for is how Arodys Vizcaino performs in instructional ball. He has missed two full seasons because of Tommy John surgery and setbacks. He was ranked in the top 10 for Cubs prospects before this year. He was traded from the Braves to the Cubs in a deal in 2012. Vizcaino was supposed to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, but after yet another setback, he will be in instructional ball, like I said before.

Offseason Predictions

I believe the Cubs will look to add some players through free agency. These players, low cost and higher upsides, will play a huge part in the Cubs season in 2014. Another interesting tidbit to look at is if Darwin Barney will be traded or not. Especially with Baez moving up in the system quickly, looking like he will be up mid season, Barney’s defense is a fantastic tool that a contender can use. Unfortunately, the Cubs will not be in play for those big-named guys, but the front office will find the right guys to fit this team’s needs.