Ever since the start of free agency was pushed up just two years ago, the offseason has always felt shorter. In the past, most free agents would sign in late December/early January, but now many big signings and trades come in late November or early December. So it goes that with this rule change, the moves start to die down come the new year. However, a few intriguing free agents are still left on the market, and there is always the possibility of a trade. Here are three options for the Cubs with just 35 days until pitchers and catchers report:
1. Michael Bourn- Bourn is widely considered the best free agent left on the market, and for good reason. Last year Bourn hit .274 and had a .739 OPS with the Braves. He had 624 at bats last year and 656 with the Astros and Braves in 2011, proving that he is as reliable of a leadoff hitter as it gets. However, Bourn’s forte is the stolen base. Last season he stole 42 bases of his 55 chances, and the year before that he stole 61 of 75 bases. With declining stats at age 30, it would be fair to say that Bourn is on the decline, but he is the type of player that has 2-3 good years left in him. The Cubs have been linked to him multiple times throughout the offseason, but are mum in the interest. The Cubs have two quality outfielders in Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus, who is a reliable leadoff hitter, and Nate Schierholtz is expected to fill the void in right field, at least until Brett Jackson is ready. Because of the lack of a market, Bourn may be in the Cubs price range, it is just a matter of whether the they feel they need him.
2. Left Handed Relievers- With only James Russell as a lock for the bullpen as far as left handed relievers goes, the Cubs may feel that the latter part of the offseason could be a good time to pick up a lefty on a cheap contract. Two options are Rich Hill and Will Ohman, both former Cubs. Hill has battled injuries all throughout his career, but was once thought of as the next ace in the Cubs staff. He has since converted himself to a reliever and changed up his throwing motion. Hill pitched to the tune of a 1.83 ERA last season, but the 19.2 innings that he threw serve as only as small sample size. In 2010 and 2011 he combined to throw 12 scoreless innings, with injuries again preventing him to continue his dominance. He is also a big strikeout guy, fanning 21 last year and 12 the year before that. Hill features a nasty curveball that he could use as a left handed specialist if he is given the opportunity out of the Cubs bullpen. Another, albeit less attractive, option is Will Ohman, who is three years older than Hill. He posted an ugly ERA that was upwards of six in nearly 27 innings with the White Sox before ultimately being released in late June. As a Cub he was known for his tendency to strand inherited runners as well as strikeout left handed hitters, which may be a reason the Cubs take a chance on him.
3. Matt Garza to the Rangers- Ah, the never ending Matt Garza saga. While not as crazy as the Brian Roberts/Jake Peavy trade debacle, Garza has still been mentioned constantly as trade bait by the Cubs. Last year the Rangers and Tigers were both close to deals for him, but neither of them panned out. His uncertain health has prevented any deal from happening at last season’s trade deadline as well as during this offseason. However, he has said he will be ready to pitch by Spring Training which will be many teams first chances to look at his health. With the Rangers losing out on Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton, they are looking to make a splash, and a Garza trade would represent exactly that. Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago has stated that a Spring Training deal involving Garza is possible, with the Rangers being the most likely suitor. The Cubs would likely ask for a package centered around third baseman Mike Olt, who the Rangers will be hesitant to get rid of. While it will surely get discussed, based on past history, it is hard to see a Garza deal happening.
It has been a successful offseason for the Cubs in terms of the goals, as they have signed Edwin Jackson, Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva, Shawn Camp, Ian Stewart, Dioner Navarro, and Nate Schierholtz. The new regime has been notorious for being unpredictable, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see another move or two by the Cubs by the time Opening Day rolls around.