By Bruce Levine–
(670 The Score) — With the new year upon us, the start of Cubs spring training awaits in less than six weeks.
The incomplete grade on the Cubs’ offseason shouldn’t be confused for a lack of aggressiveness from the team’s front office. Executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been busy through the holiday season looking to add to their roster, but the market has moved slowly.
Starting pitching has been the team’s emphasis. The Cubs added Tyler Chatwood on a three-year deal to help fill the 338 2/3 innings that Jake Arrieta and John Lackey combined to throw for in 2017 before entering free agency this offseason.
Most of the Cubs’ activity came at the Winter Meetings in mid-December, when they added late-inning relievers Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek, each on two-year deals. Both are capable of closing. Morrow has the big arm and arsenal to take possession of the closer’s job now that Wade Davis has signed with the Rockies. Cishek saved 25 games for the Mariners in 2016. Left-hander Drew Smyly, signed to a two-year deal, could also be a key addition to the Cubs’ bullpen late in the 2018 season after he had Tommy John surgery this past July.
Looking ahead, the Cubs have a renewed interest in bringing back Arrieta, sources said. Arrieta, who turns 32 in March, had a 3.53 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 30 starts in 2017. The two clubs showing the most interest in Arrieta are the Cubs and Cardinals, according to one industry source.
The Cubs have also stayed in touch with free agent right-handers Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb. Epstein and Hoyer had a long in-person meeting with Darvish on Dec. 18. The Cubs were long thought to be the favorite to land Cobb because of his familiarity with new Chicago pitching coach Jim Hickey and manager Joe Maddon from their shared days in Tampa Bay. However, that may no longer be the case. As of mid-December, the asking price for Cobb that was projected to be around $14 million or $15 million annually appeared to jump by $3 million to $4 million annually.
The two starting pitchers getting the most attention on the trade market are Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole and Rays right-hander Chris Archer, and both are receiving attentions from top clubs like the Yankees and Cubs.
The Cubs could potentially get back in on the bidding for free-agent closers such as Greg Holland and Addison Reed, but they need to first determine the payroll commitment they have to their rotation as they seek one more starter.
Beyond pitching, the Cubs could look to add another position player if it’s an ideal fit. The Marlins have set out on a salary-dumping course and may look to trade outfielder Christian Yelich, who has four years and $43.25 million left on his contract and then a $15-million team option or a $1.25 million buyout for 2022. Yelich, 26, hit .282 with 18 homers, 81 RBIs and an .807 OPS in 156 games in 2017. He could potentially fill the lead-off spot for the Cubs, boasting a career .369 on-base percentage.
If the Cubs wanted to obtain Yelich, it’s almost certain that outfielder Albert Almora Jr. would be sent back to the Marlins as part of the package. Almora, 23, is under team control for five more seasons.
Another name to keep an eye on is free-agent outfielder Lorenzo Cain, who could also potentially fill the lead-off role. Cain, who turns 32 in April, has a career .342 on-base percentage, including a career-best .363 mark in 2017.
Both Yelich and Cain are considered quality defensive players and have 20-stolen base potential.
As it stands today, the Cubs are a strong contender with 2018 awaiting. Their goal is to be a powerhouse again with a couple of astute moves in the coming weeks.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.