Cubs don't figure to be buyers in free-agency

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jose Quintana is a free agent this offseason. Will the Cubs move on from the pitcher?

    Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jose Quintana is a free agent this offseason. Will the Cubs move on from the pitcher? Associated Press

 
 
Updated 11/7/2020 5:43 PM

There are several reasons why it's tough to predict what the Cubs will do during the offseason:

• There are no obvious holes in the roster, other than the inability to score runs late in the season and good luck figuring that one out. Cubs management hasn't been able to do it.

 

• The Cubs laid off roughly 100 front-office employees, so it's probably safe the payroll won't be rising after the revenue-jarring pandemic season. The more likely scenario is they try to shed salary.

• Four key players who can be free agents after 2021 -- Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber -- are coming off career-worst years at the plate. Who bounces back in '21 and who doesn't? And what could the Cubs get back in a trade for any of those players?

Logic suggests the Cubs will try to remain a playoff contender next season. They have one of the best 1-2 starting pitcher combinations in baseball with Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish, and they're under contract for at least two more years. If the Cubs did choose to rebuild, trading one of those two would be a likely first step.

But let's assume the Cubs keep Hendricks and Darvish, and try to repeat as NL Central champs. Two more spots in the rotation appear set with Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay. Considering all the mutual love shown between Jon Lester and Theo Epstein at the end of the year, it's easy to see Lester coming back and maybe providing a bridge to top prospect Brailyn Marquez. The Cubs already had to give Lester $10 million to decline his contract option.

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So the Cubs probably plan to turn free agents Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood loose, and maybe use Colin Rea or another low-cost pickup for starter depth.

The Cubs other significant free agents are Jeremy Jeffress, Andrew Chafin, Cameron Maybin, Billy Hamilton, Jason Kipnis and Josh Phegley.

In a perfect world, the Cubs would bring back Jeffress and Chafin to keep the improving bullpen intact. Jeffress was MVP of the 2020 pen and lefthander Chafin was a late addition. But Jeffress figures to be in demand and may have priced himself beyond the Cubs' budget.

The rest of the relievers are under team control, including Craig Kimbrel, who is set to make $16 million in 2021. At least he seemed to be back to his old self by the end of the season.

Something else to watch is the Cubs have a lot of players who can go to arbitration this winter, including Bryant, Baez, Schwarber, catcher Willson Contreras and center fielder Ian Happ, who was the Cubs' best hitter most of last season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Arbitration typically means a rising payroll, so it's possible the Cubs might decide to move on from one or more of those guys. But considering so many had down years, it's also conceivable the Cubs bring everyone back and see who rebounds from a bad 2020 before making any moves. Poor performance should lead to reasonable arbitration salaries.

The Cubs will have to decide whether to keep going with Jose Martinez, who went hitless after arriving in a trade, and Albert Almora Jr., who is likely no longer a candidate for a starting job.

When it comes to inexpensive additions, the Cubs might consider the two outfielders who ended last season on the North Side, Cameron Maybin and Billy Hamilton. Maybin made better contact than most Cubs and Hamilton can make things happen on the bases. Guys who can help manufacture runs would be welcome.

Jason Kipnis seems unnecessary, if the Cubs plan to stick with Nico Hoerner and David Bote as possibilities at second base. The Cubs liked Ildemaro Vargas as a utility infielder.

In summary, the only free agents the Cubs seem likely to chase are value guys at bargain prices. But that may be the case throughout the league. Any significant additions figure to come via trade.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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