Cubs might have some wheeling and dealing ahead of them
In yesterday’s Roundup, Chris Mosch surveyed the James Shields landscape with news that the right-hander might finally put pen to paper by the end of the week. The Cubs were a late entrant to the slow-developing fray, as David Kaplan of CSN Chicago reported that they were “kicking the tires” on the former Royal, now that his price is believed to have come down. But if Wrigleyville is to become Shields’ next home, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer might have other machinations in store.

Kaplan followed the Shields tweet with word that Welington Castillo and Travis Wood aren’t likely to be with the Cubs when pitchers and catchers report to Arizona. It’s unclear whether that's an educated guess or based on information from sources, but if the Cubs do move both of them, it could signal that they’re clearing salary for one last big acquisition—namely, Shields.

The list of suitors for the 33-year-old has thinned in no small part because of the slow burn through which his agent, Page Odle, subjected those who tried to sign him early on. The Giants, for instance, transitioned to Shields when they lost out to the Cubs on Jon Lester, only to have a four-year, $80 million overture turned down; they brought back Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong to round out their rotation instead. A still-unidentified club reportedly offered $110 million over five years, and even that wasn’t enough at the time, because Shields was picky about his destination. In some ways, the Cubs fit under this umbrella, too.

While Lester was likely Epstein and Hoyer’s top offseason pitching target, based on the commitment they made and their history with the southpaw in Boston, other offseason decisions might now impede their pursuit of the winter’s no. 3 pitching prize. The trade for Miguel Montero added $12 million to the books in 2015 and $14 million in 2016-17 while turning Castillo into a somewhat pricey backup. Signing Jason Hammel for $20 million over two years filled up the rotation.

Now, the Cubs’ payroll stands at around $113 million—once an arb raise for Pedro Strop is factored in—which would be their highest outlay since 2011. Paying Shields about $20 million annually would bring Chicago close to the $134 million it spent four years ago when Jim Hendry was still at the helm.

Since Edwin Jackson’s contract is virtually untradeable, the Cubs have limited ways to clear both money and rotation space for Shields. Jackson already projects as a reliever, with Lester, Hammel, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, and Travis Wood composing the starting five. Tsuyoshi Wada, Jacob Turner, and Felix Doubront further crowd the rotation depth chart. Shields would bump everyone down a peg.

That is, unless someone wants Wood, who’s owed $5.7 million in 2015 and has one more year of arbitration eligibility left before he hits free agency. Unfortunately, Wood—who’s celebrating his 28th birthday today—made Epstein’s job more difficult by walking 9.7 percent of the batters he faced last year, up 1.7 percentage points from 2013. Teams would have to believe that the southpaw can bring that free-pass rate back down, or they’ll be handing nearly $6 million to a roughly replacement-level pitcher and giving the Cubs a modest return for the right to do so.

Kaplan is of the mind that Epstein and Hoyer will find a way to unload their fifth starter and no. 2 catcher. They might have to do so quickly if those moves are to serve as precursors for a pact with Shields.

Matt Albers to throw bullpen for interested clubs next week
On July 12th of last year, Ryan Webb finished a game for the Orioles without recording a save:

Trouble is, Albers never had a chance to counter, because shoulder tendinitis sidelined him from April 22nd through the end of the season. Meanwhile, Webb tacked on three more games finished to his all-time lead, and he comes into 2015 up 87-83 in a category religiously tracked by the Effectively Wild duo of Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller.

Webb should be back with Baltimore, where he signed a two-year deal last offseason, but Albers is still unemployed because of the aforementioned shoulder ailment. On Tuesday, he’ll try to convince teams that he’s healthy enough to help them.

Anthony Fenech, who covers the Tigers for the Detroit Free-Press, tweeted on Wednesday that the Tigers will be one of the teams flying south to Houston for Albers’ bullpen session. The Twins might join them, though that hasn’t been confirmed. And other clubs probably will pop up as the February 10th workout nears.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
I wonder if the Cubs could be a sleeper team for Hamels. Castillo and Wood could be part of an MLB level return and they have the prospects and money to match up.
It's also possible the Cubs have a little more money to play with now that Yoan Moncada won't be available after July 2. They might have been saving up in case they got a shot to sign him.
Not just without a save, but as I understand it, without even a save opportunity!
At his price, Shields only fits into a "win now" strategy, for a team that's already a contender. He's 33 years old. Realistically, with all their young players, the Cubs are looking at a win in two or three years strategy.

Trading Castillo is a bad idea, since he's probably a better player than Montero right now, he's younger and more durable. IF Montero's back acts up on him again, Ross can't handle the load alone.

The time for a deal for a player like Shields is if the Cubs are in contention after the All-Star game. Right now, he just eats up innings that younger players could use.