Mike Napoli. Josh Hamilton. Zack Greinke. Cole Hamels. Brandon McCarthy. Anibal Sanchez. Jonathan Broxton.
The list of players goes on. Those are a few of the biggest names who may test free agency when the 2012 MLB season ends this autumn. The aforementioned players are all in their late-20s or early-30s. They'll be searching for the organizations who will reward them with the richest paydays.
The Chicago Cubs had a 21-42 record heading into their three-game series with the Boston Red Sox that began on June 15. Things could get worse before they improve. The Cubs could trade some of their best players in midseason deals. Those players include Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano and Bryan LaHair.
It goes without saying that any of the aforementioned free agents could help this club. However, are the Cubs in a position where they want to add large salaries on their payroll? Would they find themselves in the same situation that they did with former general manager Jim Hendry?
Let's assume that free agency has started. The Cubs' goal is to be pennant contenders by 2015. They'd have three free-agency periods to complete a roster turnaround that catapults them from a cellar dweller to a stellar franchise.
Detroit Tigers: 2003-04 Free Agency
The Detroit Tigers had a 43-119 record in 2003. The 1962 New York Mets were the only modern-era team who lost more games (120). The Tigers had a 55-106 record in 2002. They had been one of MLB's laughingstocks for seasons before this.
The Tigers made some key offseason additions. They traded Juan Gonzalez and Ramon Santiago to the Seattle Mariners for Carlos Guillen. Ivan Rodriguez and Ugueth Urbina were two of their key free-agent signings. They drafted Justin Verlander with the second-overall pick in the 2004 MLB Amateur Draft in June.
The Tigers improved their win total by 29 games in 2004. After a minor setback with a 71-win season in 2005, the Tigers won the American League (AL) pennant in 2006. Since then, they've consistently been amongst the AL's most-competitive teams.
Washington Nationals: 2009-10 Free Agency
The Washington Nationals were coming off back-to-back 59-win seasons in 2008 and 2009. The Nationals had been one of MLB's most-unsuccessful organizations ever since they were the Montreal Expos during the 20th century. Things hadn't improved after they moved to Washington, D.C.
The Nationals didn't make any extravagant free-agent transactions in that offseason. They signed a past-his-prime Ivan Rodriguez and Chien-Ming Wing. They drafted Bryce Harper with the first-overall pick in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft in June. They signed Jayson Werth in the ensuing offseason in 2011.
The Cubs' Payroll Through 2014
The Cubs are clearing payroll that has being spent on assets that were obtained during the Hendry era. Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol are two of the biggest issues that must be dealt with. Marmol signed a three-year, $20-million contract that expires in 2013. Soriano signed an eight-year, $136-million contract that expires in 2014.
It doesn't really matter how the talent is acquired; just so it is. With that said, long-term contracts for free agents are extraordinarily risky. Cubs president Theo Epstein knows this from his stint with the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox are stuck with John Lackey, Carl Crawford and Bobby Jenks.
The Cubs will do something. What they do is yet to be determined. I don't expect them to pursue any of the cream-of-the-crop free agents. A pitcher like Sanchez or McCarthy is more reasonable. They won't pursue an expensive third baseman because they have Josh Vitters at Triple-A Iowa. The same theory should apply for Brett Jackson.
I'd strongly encourage some investments toward the bullpen. The Cubs need at least a couple of middle relievers and a closer. That alone would help them win one-run games. They wouldn't relinquish the leads that they carry into later innings. The Tigers experienced this when they signed Urbina.
Joshua Huffman grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula as a Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs enthusiast. He immediately gained an admiration for Cubs fans after watching numerous games on WGN during the mid-90s. His favorite Cubs moment was Kerry Wood's(notes) 1-hitter, 20K extravaganza that was only denied of a no-hitter by Kevin Orie's defensive blunder. As a Packers and Cubs fan, he suffered through Steve Bartman and "4th & 26" in a span of three months. He can be found on Twitter HERE.
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