The Chicago Cubs spent over $146 million on its 2010 roster. This ranks 3rd in 2010 MLB team payroll and would typically bring fan excitement for baseball’s annual Hot Stove League. Like the under-the-radar hiring of managerial candidate Mike Quade this off season will be more toned down for the Cubs. Management will look to cut payroll, trade away big contracts and field a younger, cheaper team. When the Tribune-owned Cubs signed Soriano, Fukedome, Zambrano and Bradley to big contracts it was not only for a run at a World Series title but also to enhance the team’s profile for the pending sale. Now that Tom Ricketts owns the team don’t expect management to have a blank check going into free agency. The Cubs are still a big market team so, after the bad contracts are traded away or expire, I expect them to remain in the top 10. But ownership is probably more comfortable being closer to $100 million than $150 million and basing the team around a solid farm system, smarter and shorter contracts and fewer overpriced veterans.
2010 MLB free agency doesn’t have the hype of last year’s NBA free agency but there are some second tier players that could end up on the North side this winter. Carl Crawford would look great in Cubbie blue but will surely end up wearing pinstripes in the Bronx or chasing down fly balls in Fenway. The Cubs already have too many big-contract outfielders and will have to pass on the talented outfielder. Like-wise Cliff Lee would fill the need for a top of the rotation starter but will command $100 million dollar plus contact and is on the wrong side of 30. With Derrick Lee gone the Cubs do have a hole at first base. While Adam Dunn would provide much needed power to the Cubs lineup, he’ll be expensive and would expose a shaky defense that Lee hid for so many years. Adam LaRoche or Mike Lowell would provide cheaper, short term options at first base. Like it or not the rest of the Cubs starting line up is mostly set even if it isn’t stocked with the best talent. Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin will provide youthful talent and the team will continue hoping for better play from Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano as they finish out their deals. The rotation will look much like last year unless they find a taker for Carlos Zambrano who struggled early but teased Cub fans again with a strong second half. If Zambrano is traded or Jim Hendry decides Gorzelanny, Silva or Wells don’t fit the rotation they could sign an older veteran like Pavano, Millwood or Freddy Garcia to fill the need.
The true goal for Jim Hendy this off season is to unload bad contracts and therefore, shorten the Cubs rebuilding period. The contracts of Fukedome, Zambrano and Soriano will tie the team down for the next several years unless Hendry finds viable trading partners. Soriano isn’t going anywhere but the other two could be moved. Fukedome only has 1 year remaining on his contract and is a considered a plus defender. Zambrano had a strong second half and always shows glimpses of greatness so he may tempt a few teams.
The Cubs might not be very active this off season but Ricketts and team leadership have long term plans that include a refreshed Wrigley Field and a leaner, younger roster.