It feels foolish to believe this might be a jolly holiday season for Cubs fans. The Ricketts are aiming to cut payroll (relative to 2018 and 2019), Theo Epstein stepped down a year early, Kyle Schwarber was non-tendered, and Len Kasper departed Marquee for the Southside’s radio booth on ESPN 1000.
Cubs fans would be forgiven for adopting a Scrooge-esque demeanor this winter. It doesn’t feel like a time to be cheerful, and certainly, it’s hard to believe the front office can afford to offer any gifts for David Ross to enjoy in 2021.
Yet the holiday season remains a time to be thankful, to count our blessings, to commit to treating our fellow humans better, to participate in bettering the world in which we dwell. As we all endure this pandemic-influenced holiday season, it’s okay to still be hopeful.
For Cubs fans, that sense of hope can be wide ranging. While expensive, shiny toys for David Ross are unlikely, it doesn’t hurt to ask from them anyway. And meaningful players — ones that can make a difference despite not being a big-ticket item — might also be out of reach for the Cubs this offseason, but they are definitely worth being on one’s wish list.
Under the Tree
Austin: Ha-Seong Kim
Kim would be a terrific get for the Cubs for a variety of reasons. While the roster is not in dire need of a middle infielder, his youth (25) and skillset would be an absolute boon for the roster.
Last month I wrote about position players that fit Cubs’ needs, and since then my adulation for Kim has only grown. He truly come into his own the past two seasons in the KBO, and in 2020 put up a .306/.397/.523 slash, a 10.9 K% and 12.1 BB%, with a .411 wOBA and 141 wRC+. He added in 30 home runs and 23 stolen bases while playing solid defense, portending a shift to the majors should reveal a capable player at the big-league level.
Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections suggest Kim’s 2020 performance would have looked like this in a full season of MLB action: .274/.345/.478, 29 HR, 17 SB, 57 BB, 92 K. These are numbers that I think any team would love to have from an everyday middle infielder. Adjusting to MLB velocity will increase his strikeouts and lower his walk totals, but even then he still offers high-contact skills with the ability to reach base. And his plus-speed flat out players in any league.
The cost for Kim has ranged from five years, $20 million (ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel) to five years, $40 million (MLB Trade Rumors), to five years, $60 million (Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards). Of course, there’s also the posting fee attached to the final contract owed to Kiwoom Heroes, making a bid from the Cubs even less likely. Still, he has the skill-set, youth, and intangibles the Northside so desperately needs, and for that reason he’s my big-ticket item this Christmas.
Ben: DJ Lemahieu
I’ve made it no secret that I am more than a little salty about the direction the Cubs are heading. Let’s take away the pandemic for a moment and the disputed losses the owner’s are claiming. As a Cubs fan, I feel like I was sold a plan where a team in a huge market that sells a bucket load of tickets should be able to open the purses to keep a steady window of contention open. Yes, the pandemic hurt the pocketbooks, but the failed rolled out of Marquee also didn’t help.
All that said, I am picking my wish for under the tree in a not-so-silent protest of the Cubs’ apparent desire to act like a small-market team. For my big Christmas present, I’m going with D.J. LeMahieu.
It is easy to become enamored with finding the “hot” young talent, but a veteran, proven bat like LeMahieu’s would be a fantastic fit for the Cubs’ offensive woes. While the rest of the league seemed to crater offensively in 2020, LeMahieu posted a .364/.421/.590 slash line with a 2.8 WAR and an unearthly 177 wRC+. Fangraphs projects his salary at around three years, $42M. With the money coming off the books the Cubs absolutely should be able to afford that. His defensive versatility at 1B, 2B, or 3B would fit nicely.
Is this realistic in the Cubs’ mindset? Not at all. Should it be? Absolutely.
Lenny: James Paxton
This Christmas, pitching is on my Cubs Wish List. There are a lot of starting pitchers available, but I think the Cubs should pursue James Paxton. Their starting rotation currently consists of three right-handed pitchers (Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, and Alec Mills) with the assumption righty Adbert Alzolay will also be joining the rotation. The Cubs lost two left-handed pitchers this offseason as Jon Lester and Jose Quintana both entered free agency.
The door is open for either of them to return, but I think the Cubs should focus their effort toward a fresh start. Paxton did not have a good 2020, as he had back surgery in February that saw him miss Spring Training, and he only pitched five games before a Grade 1 strain in his left arm sent him limping into free agency. In those five games, Paxton was 1-1 with a 6.64 ERA, surrendering 23 hits, 17 runs (15 earned), and four home runs in 20.1 innings. He maintained a nifty 28.9 K% in 2020, but his season was otherwise foregettable.
According to Baseball Savant, Paxton is relying more heavily on his changeup, cutter, and curveball, and less on his four-seam fastball. In fact, his usage of his fastball has been steadily declining since 2017. Do you know who also stopped relying on his fastball and has emphasized his other pitches with a surprising amount of success? Yu Darvish, who finished second in 2020 in NL Cy Young voting. I think moving away from the fastball is usually the sign of a worn-down pitcher, but if Paxton can utilize his pitches like Darvish, the Cubs could have a steal on their hands.
I am hoping the ugly stats will overshadow the good to other teams and the Cubs can get away with a risky pick-up that could surprise some people. The last three seasons prior to 2020 saw Paxton finish with 12 wins, 11 wins, and a career high 15 wins while also not losing more than six games in each respective season. I think Paxton would be a perfect candidate for the Cubs on a short-term deal as both parties will be looking to bring the best value out of each other in what could be a transitional period for both team and player.
The Cubs need a left-handed starting pitcher who will at best help them contend for a playoff spot, and at worst eat five to six innings a game if healthy and anchor the back of the rotation. If the Cubs can sign Paxton to a one or two-year deal worth $15 million, I think they have a decent chance of taking the NL Central for the fourth time in six years. The only glaring holdup is his agent, Scott Boras, who is notorious for big money deals over several years (See: Bryce Harper).
Austin: Archie Bradley
The Cubs are in perpetual need of ‘pen reinforcements — and a high-leverage arm like Bradley’s would answer that need in a big way. He was among the many surprise non-tenders, as his production certainly has lived up to the projected arbitration salary in the $4.3-$5.7 million range in 2021.
Instead, the Reds cut him loose after trading for him at this year’s deadline, a curious decision from a team yearning to compete in the NL Central. Bradley had a terrific 2020 with a 2.95 ERA, 2.59 FIP, accruing 0.6 fWAR in just 18.1 innings. For his career (as a reliever) he boasts a 2.82 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 26.6 K%, 8.1 BB%, 1.17 WHIP.
With experience as a closer he’d slot in nicely alongside Craig Kimbrel and Rowan Wick. The Cubs have a lot of roster needs, but a young (28) reliever with mid-90’s heat, a quality curve and change, and a proven track record would be a wonderful addition in 2021 and beyond.
Ben: Tommy La Stella
My stocking stuffer is what I would consider a poor man’s LeMahieu, and likewise has also spent time in the Cubs organization. La Stella posted slash lines of .295/.346/.486 and .281/.370/.449 in 2019 and 2020, respectively, with a 2.1 WAR over that time frame. His 122 and 129 wRC+ over the past two seasons would be a solid replacement for the production of Kyle Schwarber, perhaps even an upgrade.
The utility infielder can play second or third, and offers another offensive weapon should the DH return to the NL in 2021. At two years, $14M as projected by Fangraphs, he should be plenty affordable. Again, do I see the Cubs investing that much? No. Should they be able to? Yes.
Lenny: Josh Reddick
I hope Santa leaves starting pitching under the tree. In my stocking I would not mind a left fielder.
With outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr recently non-tendered, the Cubs are a bit thin on outfield depth. I sincerely doubt they use Kris Bryant or Willson Contreras as their primary left fielder (and why would they?), which means they will need to outsource.
I think if the Cubs are making a call, it will be to Josh Riddick. According to Spotrac, Reddick’s market value is around $3.5 million, and that is about all the Cubs are probably going to spend, unfortunately. I do not see the Cubs making big moves in free agency this year, which leads me to believe Reddick as a viable target for left field.
He’s not the power threat Schwarber was, nor will his defense impress like Almora, but the Cubs could do worse. The former 2012 Gold Glove winner with Oakland did bang trash cans in 2017 for the Houston Astros, so there is a bit of downside. Still, Reddick has a career stat line of .263/.322/.428, and will give his team around 12 home runs a season adding in 40 to 50 RBI’s when healthy.
I know you might be thinking “Len this guy does not sound impressive at all, why the heck is he on this Christmas list?” That is because I failed to mention one very key detail: The Cubs are on the naughty list this year. And Reddick? He is coal. He is exactly the type of player the Cubs will reach out to because we can not have nice things.
With the Winter Meetings set to begin this evening we can expect plenty of action league-wide this week. The Cubs, of course, are more likely to be sellers of trade assets than they are buyers of free agent goods, but it never hurts to examine wishes that would help the team now and in the future.
Certainly, this list was ambitious — but sometimes it’s better to dream of impossible gifts when all you’re expecting is a fat lump of coal.
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