The Chicago Cubs had a fairly productive week at the winter meetings a week ago, despite the overall shortage of activity from the majority of teams.
Prior to the start of the meetings last Sunday, the Cubs signed free agent starter Tyler Chatwood to a three-year, $38 million deal. The Chatwood deal was the first significant free agent signing by any team in the offseason. Chatwood will likely fill out the fourth or fifth slot in the rotation in 2018.
During the winter meetings, the Cubs also finalized a deal to acquire free agent reliever Brandon Morrow, who pitched in relief for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017. At this point, it appears that Morrow will be the closer for the Cubs in 2018 if they do not resign Wade Davis or acquire another closer this offseason. Morrow had an impressive 2.06 ERA last year, giving up no home runs the entire regular season.
Also during the meetings, the Cubs signed left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly to a two-year contract. Smyly underwent Tommy John surgery this summer, and is not expected to be available until late in the 2018 season. The Cubs also added another bullpen arm in free agent Steve Cishek, who pitched for the Seattle Mariners in 2017 before he was dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays at the trade deadline. He posted an impressive ERA of 2.01 in 2017.
Despite some smart acquisitions thus far this offseason, the Cubs still have more work to do going into the 2018 season. Several areas must be addressed to give the Cubs the best chance to contend for another title in 2018.
Another starting pitcher
The signing of Tyler Chatwood was a good start for the Cubs. But having lost two starting pitchers to free agency in Jake Arrieta and John Lackey, the Cubs will need to acquire at least one more starting pitcher in order to be successful in 2018. While Mike Montgomery is a viable option to start, it is better to have him available as a sixth man in case of injury to one of the five regular starters.
Thus, the Cubs will need to either trade for or sign a starter before the start of the 2018 season. While it was widely speculated that free agent Alex Cobb would sign with Chicago, the sense around the industry is that Cobb has been negotiating for a much larger contract than may have been expected. With the impressive free agent class coming next year and signings of young stars like Kris Bryant and Javier Baez imminent, the Cubs may be hesitant to spend what Cobb is asking for. Reports have surfaced that the Cubs are interested in Yu Darvish as well, but Darvish would probably seek a similar contract to Cobb.
At this point, it might be best for the Cubs to see if they can get a trade done for an impact starter to fill out the rotation. All the major starting pitchers on the free agent market, who remain largely unsigned, are going to demand around the same price, and if the Cubs are unwilling to spend that, a trade may be the only viable option.
The idea of trading Addison Russell to the Orioles for Manny Machado has been discussed by some around baseball. However, it might be a better idea to trade Russell for a young, controllable starting pitcher, addressing the most dire need of the Cubs at the moment. Russell is an elite defensive player who might be able to garner a substantial return, and Baez proved in 2017 that he is ready to take over the shortstop position if needed. Ben Zobrist and Ian Happ would be available to take over at second base in place of Baez.
More bullpen arms
The Cubs have made some valuable additions to their bullpen already this offseason in Morrow and Cishek. However, seeing as the bullpen struggled mightily during the postseason last year, the Cubs could still use a few more arms to strengthen the bullpen for next year. Wade Davis is probably not a viable option anymore, and he will want a large, long-term deal, something Theo Epstein has been unwilling to hand out to closers. However, the Cubs could still acquire a few more middle reliever types at a low cost. Resigning Brian Duensing would be a good start. These acquisitions are not urgent, thought, and can likely be made over time leading up to spring training as viable options present themselves.
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