I thought it might be too early to write the story, but seeing as Tim Linecum got a 2/35 deal, clearly the offseason is closer than I thought.
First, a short breakdown of the Freak deal.
Lincecum was a back-to-back Cy winner in 08 and 09, but those days are behind him. In his place, he has had an ERA+ of 114, 127, 68, and 76. Big Time Timmy Jim was worth 0 WARP in 2012, 0.6 WARP in 2013 and was part of the Starlin Castro School of Vastly Underperforming BP's 10% prediction. He's lost velo from this fastball, going from 93.11 mph on the 4seam in 2011 down to 90.9 this year. However, his slidepiece also lost the same velocity (all of his pitches did save the splitter), so he's still got roughly the same speed change on his off-speed stuff. He isn't getting as many swings and misses with his fastball but he's making them up in slider whiffs.
If I had to project Lincecum's WARP for the next 2 years, I'd be hard pressed to go more than 2.5 and 2 in the next 2 seasons. There's still potential there (especially if the velo returns), but there's also a chance Lincecum gives you 170 replacement-level innings of worse. If a win is worth 6 million this year (and 6.3 next year), that's 15/12.6, or 2/27.5. That was sort of what I expected (I was hoping that the Cubs would throw him a 2/25 deal or so), so this is a mild surprise. Perhaps this is the market now, I don't know.
Now that Lincecum is off the market, the market for SP shrinks fairly considerably. Let's look at each position to see who is available.
1. Brian McCann
2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
3. Dioner Navarro
Honorable Mention: A.J. Pierzynski, Geovany Soto, Taylor Teagarden
Brian McCann is going to cost too much to be a real consideration for the Cubs. I imagine Salty will eventually be priced out of the Cubs' range as well. I was very happy with Navarro this season, but in all likelihood you'll have to pay him more to receive less. That's not something I want to get in the habit of doing.
A.J. Pierzynski would be an ideal platoon-mate to Castillo, but he'll likely make too much money and get an opportunity to play 110 games somewhere else. I think Geovany Soto is a very reasonable choice, and if he costs $2-3 million, I'd say go for it. Taylor Teagarden is mentioned only because he's a young former top prospect, and seems like ideal depth at AAA if you need it.
1. Mike Napoli
2. Kendrys Morales
3. Corey Hart
Honorable Mentions: Justin Morneau, Kevin Youkilis, James Loney
I'd be shocked if Napoli didn't re-sign with the Red Sox, and likewise with Morales and the Mariners. For all intents and purposes, Corey Hart is the best available 1B, and that's saying something considering he missed the entire year with an injury. He has 30 HR power (which is no small feat these days) and the ability to at least pretend like he can take a walk. He isn't going to make a ton of bank this season, but a 1-year prove it contract is quite likely (and probably with the Brewers). Morneau is a shell of his former self, and his power days are sadly behind him. Still, he can crush righties which counts for something. Kevin Youkilis used to be the Greek God of Walks; now, he's lucky if he's considered a normal healthy human. James Loney was surprisingly valuable last season, but he was hot garbage the 2 years prior, and even in this revelatory season he only hit 13 HR and OPS'ed .778.
1. Robinson Cano
2. Omar Infante
3. Kelly Johnson
Honorable Mention: nope
Cano is going to make more than the Astros in AAV, almost certainly. I can see 8/184, but even that is probably much too low, which seems incredible. Omar Infante is going to be well paid in FA, and he should. Infante has quietly put up WARPs of 2.4, 4.0, 2.2, and 2.7 the past 4 years. He'll be 32 next year, but he can make 3/30 relatively easy this offseason. Part of that is the dearth of 2B available in this league, but Infante can really provide a team with some value (as long as the decline is a hill, not a cliff). Kelly Johnson is the same age, but not the same player. He's an average second baseman, which is a valuable trait. I doubt he'll be average much longer, though; he's someone who can provide value this year, and maybe next. He makes sense for the Cubs for that reason. If you could get Kelly Johnson for this year as a holdover for the future, that would signal to me that the Cubs are serious about getting good in 2014. We'll see what the price is.
1. Jhonny Peralta
Ok, there is Stephen Drew. He'll probably re-sign with the Red Sox, and provide them with a .250/.310/.410 sort of line with overrated (but still very good) defense. After that, it's a wasteland. Seriously, here's the list:
Robert Andino (30)
Clint Barmes (35)
Willie Bloomquist (36)
Jamey Carroll (40)
Alexi Casilla (29)
Stephen Drew (31)
Yunel Escobar (31) – $5MM club option
Rafael Furcal (36)
Alex Gonzalez (36)
Nick Green (35)
Cesar Izturis (34)
Derek Jeter (40) – $8MM+ player option with a $3MM buyout
John McDonald (39)
Jhonny Peralta (32)
Brendan Ryan (32)
Jhonny Peralta is the only real get here, and even he is coming back from a 50-game suspension. If we look at the Melky Cabrera situation, I'd assume that Peralta gets something relatively similar (I don't know what the PED penalty is). Does 3/27 sound reasonable? Really, I have no clue what Peralta will get, and he's probably going to get a foolish-looking deal.
1. Juan Uribe
2. Michael Young
3. Eric Chavez
Honorable Mentions: No.
This is quite the dicey list. Uribe was a revelation this year, putting up 4.1 WARP (he's actually had 3 seasons with a WARP above 3 in his career), with a .278/.331/.438 in 426 PA. Still, he's 35 next year, and can't really be relied on to start at 3B. Michael Young gets shit on for hitting an empty .300 every year, and I get it. Still, he's a guy that isn't going to kill you and is apparently great in the clubhouse. I'm not sure that translates to actual wins (hint: probably not), but he's a guy that can play against lefties and give you some production, and he can man the corners without being a complete embarassment. Eric Chavez is actually a useful piece, but he's injury-prone. He can't hit lefties but mashes righties; unfortunately, he's too old and brittle to play there every day, so he doesn't even make for the ideal platoon man. He fits in a time-share with a rookie that doesn't have a noticeable L/R split and could learn from a proven veteran, which is almost the definition of the Cubs in 2014. He makes a ton of sense for that reason (though he and Valbuena are both lefties. In this scenario, Baez is called up for 3B relatively soon, and Valbuena plays 2B until Alcantara/Watkins force him into the supersub role). He made 3 million for one year last season. That's what I'd offer him this year (though honestly, we're getting into a glut in the infield, perhaps sooner rather than later).
1. Mike Morse
2. Raul Ibanez
3. Delmon Young
Slim pickings to be sure. Mike Morse was horrific last year, but I'm chalking it up to a combination of a quad injury and a park that almost couldn't be worse for his skillset. However, even if I'm being charitable, he's still a 1.5 to 2 win player at a corner outfield, one whose game is completely reliant on RH power. He'll likely take a 1-year "prove it" deal, to see if he can be the guy he was in 2011. Honestly, there are worse people to send out there for the Cubs, who aren't nearly as stacked in the outfield as they are on the infield. Raul Ibanez had a great season, but will be 43 next season. He's a terrible fielder who doesn't take walks, so he'll be the DH for… let's say…the Royals next year.
1. Jacoby Ellsbury
2. Shin-Soo Choo
3. Curtis Granderson*
The list of CFs available is short and sweet. Granderson will probably get a QA (around 14 million), and he'll probably take it in the hopes of rebuilding some value. If he doesn't, there are worse bounce-back candidates to sign. He doesn't make sense for the Cubs because he's 33 and you don't need his declining bat to coincide with your ascension. Ellsbury continues to be priced out of a reasonable market for the Cubs; I could see 6 and maybe 100 but he's probably making more than that (if Pence gets 5/90, Ellsbury could at LEAST get that). Shin-Soo Choo will make less than Jacoby, but I think I'd take him straight-up (which appears to be the minority opinion around here). I've made no attempt to hide my man-crush for the Busan Bomber; he probably doesn't have a future at CF, but even at RF his bat more than plays. I'd expect 15 bombs and 90 walks a year, and a line of .280/.390/.440 fits more-or-less perfectly at the top of a lineup that figures to have more than it's share of power in the near and long-term future. Choo has enough speed to score from first on doubles, and the Cubs hit the 6th most doubles in baseball last year. I have Choo at 3.5/3.0/2.5/2.0/1.5/1.5 WAR in the next 6 years (or thereabouts). That'd make him worth (6 mill a win, 5% inflation) $92.8 million over the next 6 years, or $81.3 over the next 5. Does 5/81 get it done with Choo? We'll have to see, but I suspect not. I hope the Cubs consider it strongly, though. For completeness sake, I have Ellsbury at 3.5/3.5/3.0/2.5/2.0/1.5, or 6/$106.3 mil to 5/$94.8 mil.
One note; I've started to go away from factoring in the 10% discount for longer contracts. It doesn't seem like it happens any more. I'd love to see some research on it.
1. Carlos Beltran
2. Nelson Cruz*
3. Marlon Byrd
Nelson Cruz could also get a QA and he could very likely accept it. Beltran is nearing the twilight of a career that is very close to landing him in the hall of fame. Beltran never received an MVP (and in fact never reached higher than 4th in voting), but he's had a remarkable career. He had 6 seasons with an OPS+ above 130, and another 4 above 120. In 49 playoff games, he has a .335/.450/.699 slash line. He's played in 8 all-star games and has 67.5 bWAR (60.1 WARP). Black and Gray Ink aren't big fans of his, but his Hall of Fame monitor would indicate he'll get in, and his JAWS is 8th all time among CF (and there are 18 CF in the Hall right now, so he'd be around average for the position). All that being said, he'll be 37 next year and he's always been injury prone. He made $13 million last year, and he'll probably make close to that on a 1-year pact this year. He probably is worth 2 to 3 wins next year, depending on how much he actually plays. Nelson Cruz is old than he seems (33 next season), and he's coming off a 50-game suspension. He was on pace for around 38 HR last season, which is no small feat in today's MLB. That's probably behind him, but his left thigh issues might not be; combine that with his advanced age and likely draft pick loss and it's hard to see someone giving him enough to convince him not to take the qualifying $14 million. Marlon Byrd had a renaissance last season; it's not often that a player hits more HR at 35 than any other year. He'll be 36 next season, which should limit his contracts to being short and sweet.
1. Masahiro Tanaka
2. Ervin Santana
3. Hiroki Kuroda
4. Matt Garza
5. Ubaldo Jimenez*
6. Phil Hughes
Honorable Mention: A.J. Burnett, Ricky Nolasco, Bartolo Colon, Bronson Arroyo
Tanaka is not likely going to be as good as Yu Darvish and profiles as more of a #2 or #3 type. That being said, he'll make more in posting and contract than Darvish did; I expect the winning post to exceed 60 million, and probably over 70. Once you win the post, you get to pay Tanaka 6 years and probably 66 million dollars, so you're looking to spend around $140 million for 6 years of pitcher. That being said, that's basically the price to play in this FA market. If I'm the Cubs (and I have money to spend), I'm more than happy to lay down ~130 for 6 years of a pitcher if I think that's the only way I can get premium talent. A ballpark estimation of Tanaka's worth; 2.5/3.0/3.5/3.5/3.0/3.0, or 6/$126.2 million.
What sort of hellscape have we entered where Ervin Santana is the 2nd best FA available? He's pretty divisive as well; bWAR has Santana at 2.8, but BP has Ervin at 0.9 WARP (and a 4.62 FRA to boot). I don't want anything to do with him, honestly. Kuroda broke down hard at the end of this season, is 39 next year, and likely won't play anywhere besides NY or Japan. Kuroda is one of my favorite pitchers but I don't see him being in the Cubs plans for next season. It's rare that a player re-signs with the team that traded him, and I don't think Garza is going to be any different. The Cubs will be in on him (like they are with everyone), but he probably is going to seek more than the Cubs will want to give him. He's not worth anything more than the Edwin Jackson deal to me (which I'd sign Garza to), so we'll see if he makes more than that. Ubaldo is another guy who probably gets a QA that makes him just unattractive enough to stay in Cleveland. Hughes might be better suited to a relief role; he's nothing but a back-end rotation guy at best otherwise.
Who knows? There's a hundred of them and they are all volatile.
My Picks for FA
Since there's no way I can really predict what the Cubs will do with their funds, I'm just going to bet on what I hope they do.
I'd try to sign Eric Chavez ($3 million) to play the corner infield spots. He's cheap, he kills righties (which Luis Valbuena doesn't do), and he can easily fade into the background when the prospects come up (and he'll want to anyways, he can't play every day and we won't expect him to). He's a 1-year deal, so you don't have to worry about overcommitment. I'd also sign Geovany Soto ($3 million) to back up Castillo, if he'd take it. I wouldn't commit any more money to the position than that.
The Cubs only have around $30 million to play with, so they can't realistically be in on Tanaka AND Choo. As much as I love Choo, I'd much rather them sign the impact pitcher, who is also younger than Choo by half a decade. So, I'd put my last chips on the table to sign Masahiro Tanaka ($66.6 million post, $66.6 million/6 years contract, $22.2 million/year). I'll use the last couple million on Scott Baker ($2.8 million split contract) again, because why not?
I also think they'll be in on Aledmis Diaz. I'm not taking that into payroll consideration here.
Eric Chavez (10)
Geovany Soto (10)
Scott Baker (10)
Masahiro Tanaka (10)
Aledmis Diaz (10)