Better late than never, right? After a fairly inactive offseason to date — at least from a roster addition standpoint — on the North Side of Chicago, the Cubs are seemingly planning on opening up the checkbooks a bit more in the near future as Spring Training quickly approaches.
This new development came directly from the organization when Jed Hoyer spoke to the media on Monday. He started the conference by speaking on the passing of longtime baseball reporter Pedro Gomez and how incredible he was (may he rest in peace). However, one other message grabbed headlines, and it was about the Cubs budget.
The Cubs have found additional spending flexibility, meaning more roster moves are coming soon for the team. That sentiment immediately brings to mind a plethora of questions. Where would they add players? Second base, possibly? Additional pitching? Both of those options certainly make a lot of sense.
In an attempt to answer some of these burning questions, we’re going to take a look at a handful of players the Cubs could sign to bolster the roster as Spring Training is set to open in the coming weeks. Let’s dive in.
This one may come as a bit of a no-brainer. Jeffress was sensational for the Cubs in the shortened 2020 season after signing a one-year deal. Jeffress was an All-Star in 2018, but a tough 2019 campaign made him available for cheap last offseason.
In 2020, Jeffress had a 4-1 record, 1.54 ERA, and eight saves while striking out 17 batters in 23.1 innings of work. While Craig Kimbrel was figuring out his stuff early on, Jeffress took command as “the guy” at the back of the bullpen. In addition to the other great bullpen arms the Cubs still have, bringing back Jeffress would only make the Cubs’ relief corps deeper and stronger, especially at the back end.
Jeffress returning to the North Side would result in a contract figure higher than the $850K he signed for prior to 2020, however. But if the Cubs can find a way to sign Jeffress for less than $4 million, it should be a reunion that we see in 2021.
The Cubs are pretty much set at every position outside of pitcher. Even so, one position the Cubs could use additional depth at is second base. The division rival Brewers recently scooped up Kolten Wong, leaving one major name on the second base free-agent list: Jonathan Villar.
Villar comes with a skillset that the Cubs don’t have a lot of on their roster. He can hit for some average, albeit a rough year in 2020, and he can steal bases, something few guys on the Cubs roster would even think about doing. Between time with Miami and Toronto in 2020, Villar slashed .232/.301/.292 with two home runs and 15 RBIs. Looking at his production by team, he slashed .259/.315/.345 in 30 games with the Marlins but struggled in 22 games with the Blue Jays, dropping his season numbers.
When looking back at Villar’s 2019 campaign, there is reason to be excited about him potentially landing on the North Side. For starters, Villar is only 30 years old, and in 2019 he slashed .274/.339/.453 with the Baltimore Orioles. He also hit 24 home runs that year, drove in 73 runs, scored 111 runs, stole 40 bags, and played all 162 games. If the Cubs can get that version of Villar, it’s a signing that should 100% happen. Such an addition would also give Nico Hoerner time to develop further at the Triple-A level.
It’s no secret that the Cubs still need a fifth starter to complete their Opening Day rotation. Currently, Kyle Hendricks, Zach Davies, Alec Mills, and Adbert Alzolay project to be four of their starters, with Trevor Williams competing for the fifth spot. However, will Williams be there fifth? Jake Odorizzi is certainly an appealing option if the Cubs don’t believe that to be the case, or if they’re looking to add depth.
Odorizzi is still relatively young at 31 years of age. He experienced a down 2020 season, only starting four games due to some injuries. However, the 2019 version of Odorizzi was quite good. He won 15 games for the Minnesota Twins in 30 starts while adding 178 strikeouts in 159 innings as well as a 3.51 ERA. Odorizzi projects as a perfect addition for the Cubs. However, there is a catch.
There are rumors that Odorizzi is seeking a three-year deal in the ballpark of $45 million total. That may turn the Cubs off from Odorizzi, as it does not seem like they are trying to add a ton of payroll. Nevertheless, there are a couple of other options on the starting pitching market.
A lefty? Yes, a lefty, something the Cubs don’t have now that both Jon Lester and Jose Quintana left in free agency. James Paxton would be a nice addition to the Cubs rotation that, as mentioned, is in need of a fifth starter.
If Paxton signed, he could probably slot in as a number two or three in the Cubs’ rotation. Similar to Odorizzi, Paxton struggled in 2020, only making five starts and accumulating a 1-1 record, 6.64 ERA, and 26 K’s in 20.1 innings. As is the case for many players around the league, Paxton’s 2019 season was much better than the truncated 2020 campaign. He too won 15 games in 29 starts, pitching his way to a 3.82 ERA, 55 walks, and 186 strikeouts in only 150.2 innings of work. Paxton would provide a proven veteran starter who still has a lot left in the tank at 32 years of age.
Paxton does come with question marks of his own, however. How much is he looking for and is he healthy? The eight-year veteran has never pitched more than 160.1 innings in a season and has always experienced issues with injuries. That could bode well for the Cubs if he’ll take less money and a one-year deal, but there is no guarantee. If he isn’t willing to sign for cheap, then the Cubs should pass on the 32-year-old lefty.
There is one more name that Cubs fans would like to see at Wrigley in 2021.
Ah yes, Jake the Snake. The one-time Cy Young winner and World Series champion in Chicago is a free agent once again. When he threw for teams in recent weeks, the Cubs were one of the teams to attend throwing session with a strong presence there. The one holdup being reported between Arrieta and the Cubs was money. Now that more money is available to spend, could the reunion on the North Side be possible?
Arrieta’s time in Philadelphia was not terribly successful. He was decent in 2018 but regressed every season after that. He initially signed a lucrative three-year deal with Philly but never performed to the contract. Now that he is likely looking for one more contract, perhaps a reunion in the city where he found the most success could help? The Cubs’ state-of-the-art pitching lab has helped many pitchers find their stuff again, and Arrieta could take full advantage of that should he return to the Cubs.
There aren’t any reports indicating the exact amount of money Jake Arrieta is looking for, but that doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t fit into the Cubs’ budget. If Arrieta would be willing to sign for less than $10 million for the 2021 season, it’s very possible that the Cubs/Arrieta reunion could happen, possibly warming the hearts of Cubs fans after seeing Jon Lester leave because Tom Ricketts said no.
At the end of the day, the Cubs are going to spend more money and add to this roster. They could bring in another outfielder, perhaps a second baseman such as Villar, and pitching is certainly a likely possibility, so who will they sign? Let us know what you think on Twitter @LuceOnTap or @CubbiesOnTap.