Cubs Complete Outfield By Signing Dexter Fowler and Shane Victorino
In less than 24 hours, the Cubs have significantly altered their outfield situation for 2016. Yesterday, Dexter Fowler was re-signed to a one-year $8 million contract with a $5 million buyout or $9 million mutal option for 2017, and joined the team in a surprise, heart-warming moment. Fowler will start in CF and lead-off most days, with Jason Heyward now slotted for starting everyday in RF, with the ability to move to CF to give Fowler a dayoff or as part of late inning double switches. This significantly increases Heyward's value, since he is a strong right-fielder with little experience playing center. Jorge Soler will now back-up both RF and LF, perhaps forming part of a platoon with Kyle Schwarber in LF, playing against lefties. Soler has hit lefties and righties about equally well so far in his career (though with limited PAs to draw conclusions from). Though again in limited PAs, Schwarber has struggled aginst lefties, posting an OPS nearly 500 points lower than against righties. Similarly, Heyward has posted an OPS nearly 200 points lower against lefties than righties over his career.
To make room for Fowler on the roster, the versatile Chris Coghlan was traded to the Oakland Athletics for AAA starting pitcher Aaron Brooks, who has not produced much at the big league level, but is stretched out as starter, has minor league options left, keeps his walks down, and is cheap. This will be his age 26 season, so he still has some time to click, and presumably the Cubs at least saw some potential in him.
Today, the Cubs made their latest move by signing Shane Victorino to a minor league contract worth $1 million with an additional $1 million possible in incentives. Victorino struggled badly the last two years while battling a number of injuries, including some back issues. He had just 133 PAs with the Red Sox in 2014 and 204 PAs split between the Red Sox and Angels in 2015, and posted and OPS of just .635 combined over that time. He also abandoned switch hitting over those two seasons, hitting only right-handed because hitting left-handed aggrevated his injuries. This will also be his age 35 season, so it is not clear how much he has left in the tank. He claims he is healthy--but all free agents typically do that during the off-season--and there were rumors that he was back to switch-hitting, though we'll see if that materializes in spring training. If he is indeed healthy, then of course the upside potential is high. In 2013, before injuries set in, he put up an 801 OPS, was 21 for 24 in stolen bases, won a gold glove playing mostly RF, and had a WAR of 6.1. That was a career year though, and a repeat shouldn't be expected. Still, if healthy, he could bat .260 with some occasional pop, steal some bases at a high percentage, and back-up all three outfield spots with a strong arm. In addition, he has over 250 post-season at bats across 6 seasons, and has two World Series rings. And all of that is not bad for $1 million. If he really struggles or gets injuried again, he'll be cut in camp. But if he survives and plays at all decently he will almost certainly make the opening day roster, relegating Matt Szczur to AAA. With both Javy Baez and Ben Zobrist able to play OF if needed, the team now has sufficient abilty to cover those three positions and do a lot of defensive switching and playing matchups, which Joe Maddon likes to do.
With those two signings, that makes the opening day position player part of the roster essentially set, barring injury: Miguel Montero, David Ross, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Tommy La Stella, Addison Russell, Javy Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, Shane Victorino, Dexter Fowler, and Jason Heyward. That would then leave 12 slots for pitchers. Assuming a rotation of Jake Arietta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel, and Kyle Hendricks, that leaves a stiff competition for the final 7 bullpen spots between at least these 9 players, with injuries likely making the decision for the team to start the season:
Hector Rondon (R)
Pedro Strop (R)
Justin Grimm (R)
Neil Ramirez (R)
Rex Brothers (L)
Trevor Cahill (R)
Adam Warren (R)
Travis Wood (L)
Clayton Richard (L)