MLB: NLDS-Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals

An Early Look at 2019 Free Agent Options

This offseason the Chicago Cubs, every other team, and every Major League Baseball fan on the planet will be focusing on the free agencies of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. They are two all-world talents, who can alter the course of whichever team(s) gets them to sign on the dotted line. Imagining a Cubs lineup with both Harper and Machado occupying the middle of the order is, well, it makes it kind of hard for me to breathe. When the possibility of signing those two superstars exists, it’s only natural that all the attention will be on acquiring them.

Even if the Cubs get one, or both, of the Machado and Harper tandem, they have other needs. Needs that must be and can be addressed this offseason. If the Cubs front office doesn’t see fit to fix the holes on the roster beyond Machado or Harper, then 2019 could end up being another season of coming up just a little bit short. Luckily, the Cubs are a team with a smart front office and money to spend in a year where there are a bevy of quality free agents available.

Two of the people the Cubs should be targeting are still playing in the postseason. First and foremost on the Cubs secondary free agency list should be Houston Astros super utility man Marwin González. He’s in the middle of a scorching hot postseason, more than likely on his way to another World Series title. González will be a tough get for any team because he will more than likely be asking for a pretty large combination of money and years. In a day and age when positional flexibility is highly sought after, González brings more flexibility than anyone in baseball. He may be a tough get, but he is a player the Cubs should be trying very hard to get.

The Cubs already have a lot of positional flexibility, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t pursue González. Ben Zobrist is in the last year of his contract and will be 38 during next season. He’s the man who’d be giving way to González for years to come. The former Cubs farmhand can come in and play every outfield position and every infield position. He undoubtedly plays some positions better than others, but he plays every position well enough that exercising his flexibility will help and not hurt the team.

González is also a switch hitter who sported a slash line of .247/.324/.409 in a down year last year. This may help the Cubs as other teams shy away from some possible regression. The key is that, similar to the Astros, the Cubs don’t need González to be a superstar. They need him to play at a high level, but on a team full of studs, González simply needs to contribute positively. González put up a WARP of 3.1 in 2017 and followed with 2.1 in 2018. He can contribute, very positively, and if the Cubs aren’t making him a priority this offseason, then they are missing out on a much-needed addition to their roster.

The other man still playing in the postseason is the Astros catcher Martín Maldonado. The Cubs need a true backup catcher in 2019. Victor Caratini may go on to be a quality catcher at the major league level, but he’s not an adequate backup to Willson Contreras right now. The Cubs knew this, and Contreras ended up playing far too many games and was visibly beaten down as the year progressed. Maldonado is a quality major league catcher and an ideal backup to Contreras.

Don’t expect much offensively from Maldonado; he’s a career TAv hitter of .227 (well below average). Any offensive production from Maldonado would be a plus. The real reasons for the Cubs to go out and get Maldonado are his veteran presence behind the plate and his defensive capabilities. His adjusted FRAA has consistently been somewhere between 5 and 10. His 2017 adjusted FRAA of 32.1 is most likely an extreme outlier, and I’m not expecting Maldonado to repeat what was a career year for him. However, he’s an excellent framer, with an FRM Runs of 5.9 in 2018. That means that he added 5.9 tuns to his team last year with his ability to get strikes called that the average catcher could not. We all know that framing is an area where Contreras struggles and having a backup who excels at framing only makes sense.

The other area of concern for the Cubs is their bullpen. They cannot afford another year where Steve Cishek appears in 80 games and is suffering from major fatigue by the end of the year. The Cubs don’t need to add much to their 2019 bullpen, but there are relievers they should be looking at adding. I’d love to live in a world where the Washington Nationals don’t exercise their club option on Sean Doolittle, but there’s little chance they don’t exercise said option. Of the remaining free agent options, the names that stand out are Joakim Soria, Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, and Dave Robertson.

Of those four names the guy the Cubs should be showering with overtures is David Robertson. He’s a rock solid right-hander who doesn’t get talked about much despite being one of the best relievers in baseball the past few years. He’s never posted a WARP below 1.0 in his 11-year career. Last year he had a WARP of 1.5 with a DRA of 3.03 as one of the setup men to Aroldis Chapman. Robertson offers some flexibility in that he can be a guy to dominate the middle innings, or if Brandon Morrow gets injured yet again, then Robertson has the closer pedigree as well.

The only knock on Robertson is that he would be another right-hander in the pen. It’s for that reason that I could see the Cubs passing over him and taking a flyer on Britton or Miller instead. I wouldn’t mind either of those guys if they were brought in with very low expectations and initially given plenty of opportunities to iron out their issues in low-leverage situations. Still, I’d much rather have Robertson and then pursue a lefty through a trade as the year goes along, if that ends up being a pressing need. We’ve seen what the Milwaukee Brewers were able to accomplish with a lights-out bullpen. Robertson would be a step towards the Cubs improving an already very good bullpen into a lights-out bullpen.

The Cubs are poised to be a contender again in 2019. The core of the team remains among the very best in MLB, and boosting that core with Machado or Harper would be a great job by the front office. At the same time, this front office can address the teams other needs with the free agents listed here and ensure that the 2019 Chicago Cubs do not fall victim to some of the same problems that plagued the Cubs in 2018.

Lead photo courtesy Jeff Curry—USA Today Sports

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