There is only one real plum left in the free agent class among hitters — a very plump and scruffy plum who would fill a gaping hole in the Cubs’ lineup. While the Cubs could certainly use Prince Fielder, the question is should they plunk down $200 million-plus to obtain his services?
The answer is no, and here’s why. While a talent like Fielder doesn’t hit the market that often, the fact remains there are always quality players to be had from any free agent class. So why pull the trigger now for a talented player whose skills will largely be wasted for a couple of years while you try to build the team up around him when you can take the more sensible and cost-effective approach: build up the team first, then add in key players where they are needed.
The sad reality is the Cubs could clearly upgrade at every single position except shortstop. Here are some of the players who could be free agents next winter: Howie Kendrick, Brandon Phillips, David Wright, Josh Hamilton (although his age and injury history are concerns), B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino, Andre Ethier, Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Dan Haren and Shaun Marcum. There surely will be many more gems in 2013 and 2014. So why blow a big chunk of your budget now when you can take your time, assess what you have on hand and then buy accordingly in the future, when your team is more competitive?
Another important factor is Fielder’s position. First base is chock full of quality players and it usually isn’t too hard to find a useful dude to man the bag, either through free agency or trade or (here’s a wild concept, Cubs front office) the farm system. Other positions — namely the up-the-middle posts of catcher, short, second and center, in addition to pitcher — aren’t so easy to fill.
A Moneyball afficiendo like Theo surely knows that it makes more sense to spend big on hard-to-fill positions and look for bargains to play the corners than the other way around. And so that’s what the Cubbies should do. They already have the shortstop (we think). Soto might be a long-term option at catcher. Brett Jackson might be an answer for center. If not, let’s spend there and at second and on the mound and round out the roster with corner players who won’t cost $20-plus mil a year.