Cubs Working on Team For Upcoming Year, Carew Undersgoes Heart, Kidney Transplants


Published on December 19 2016 6:29 am
Last Updated on December 19 2016 6:30 am


 A soon-to-be 42-year-old righty (Koji Uehara), a platoon outfielder (Jon Jay), a closer coming off an injury (Wade Davis), another pitcher with elbow problems in 2016 (Brian Duensing) and a Rule 5 lefty (Caleb Smith): It doesn’t sound like the makings of an offseason for a contending team -- let alone one vying to repeat as world champion. But those players are exactly who the Chicago Cubs have acquired this winter at a time when easy choices were set aside for difficult ones.

Think about it. No one would have blinked if the Cubs had decided to re-sign popular outfielder Dexter Fowler -- especially knowing he probably would have taken a discount. Same goes for closer Aroldis Chapman, though it’s doubtful he was giving any discounts. The Cubs said "no thank you" to Fowler and Chapman and most likely will say the same to relief pitcher Travis Wood, who remains unsigned.

The Cubs are left with contractual commitments to just four players beyond 2017, including just one pitcher, Jon Lester. Everyone else has expiring deals or is young enough that they haven’t hit arbitration yet. But that’s coming, and then tougher long-term decisions on core players such as Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Kyle Hendricks will be looming.

And here’s the thing: As much as Fowler is beloved in Chicago – and he most certainly would have made the 2017 Cubs better -- the team probably made the right decision. There’s little doubt they did so with Chapman, and though it would be nice to have Wood, the front office has created all sorts of roster and payroll flexibility with its decisions.

Chapman’s situation is the most intriguing aspect of the offseason. The New York Yankees gave him big money (five years, $86 million) though they’re not really ready to compete, yet the current World Series champion has no interest. Chapman has more immediate value to the Cubs, and while the Yankees didn’t make a big splash for a position player, they gave long-term security to a closer who may be of real service to them only on the back end of his deal. He may not be as effective at that point. The Cubs, in contrast, chose to trade for a closer on the last year of his contract, Wade Davis.

Different strategies, indeed.

Of course, flexibility doesn’t win championships, talent does. And if Duensing, Davis, Uehara or Smith can’t pitch, or the Cubs have an on-base hole at the top of the lineup, then some observers will be critical of their moves this winter. Either way, they have the means to dive back into a deeper free-agent market next offseason. That’s the good news -- as long as it doesn’t cost them a chance at repeating in 2017. There’s really no indication that it will, especially when you consider the Cubs still have more players than positions for them, even with the loss of Fowler. After indicating they likely will start the season with eight relievers, here’s how the team shapes up after the addition of Uehara:

Infielders: Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Russell, Bryant, Ben Zobrist, Tommy La Stella.

Catchers: Willson Contreras, Miguel Montero

Outfielders: Schwarber, Jay, Albert Almora, Jason Heyward.

Pitchers: Lester, Jake Arrieta, Hendricks, John Lackey, Mike Montgomery, Smith, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, Duensing, Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon, Uehara, Davis

Even within that framework, the Cubs have some flexibility because Smith, as a Rule 5 pick, can be sent back to the Yankees if Chicago finds a better option. At the moment, it leaves holdover Matt Szczur on the outside looking in considering Bryant and Zobrist’s abilities to play the outfield, giving La Stella an edge as the final infielder. Of course, the roster could easily change between now and Opening Day. If a deal is to be struck for a young pitcher, look for third-base prospect Jeimer Candelario to be on the move. He’s a good trade chip who is blocked at the major league level. Free agent Tyson Ross (shoulder) is still a good sign-and-stash player until he’s healthy enough to pitch.

Will the Cubs’ strategy this offseason pay off? Even if there are issues on the mound, Chicago can always go back into the trade market midseason.

Abreu, White Sox Avoid Arbritration

The Chicago White Sox have avoided salary arbitration with Jose Abreu, agreeing to terms on a one-year, $10.825 million deal with the first baseman.

Abreu became eligible for arbitration earlier this offseason after opting out of the final three years of his six-year, $68 million deal, which he signed before the 2014 season.

The signing of Abreu on Saturday is the latest move in what already has been a busy offseason for the White Sox, who dealt away ace pitcher Chris Sale and center fielder Adam Eaton in blockbuster trades earlier this month.

Abreu also has been rumored as a potential trade candidate for the rebuilding White Sox, along with All-Star pitcher Jose Quintana, slugging third baseman Todd Frazier, veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera and closer David Robertson.

Abreu, 29, batted .293 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs last season. It marked the third time in as many seasons with the White Sox that the Cuban slugger finished with at least 100 RBIs.

The American League Rookie of the Year in 2014, Abreu has a .299 career average with 91 homers in his three seasons with Chicago.

Rod Carew Undergoes Heart, Kidney Transplant

Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew underwent heart and kidney transplant surgery Friday and is expected to make a full recovery.

The Minnesota Twins said the procedure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles lasted 13 hours and that Carew is resting in recovery.

"We ask that all of Twins Territory and the entire baseball community keep Rod, his wife Rhonda, and the entire Carew family in your thoughts and prayers as Rod recovers," the Twins said in a statement.

Carew, 71, had a heart attack in September 2015. Shortly thereafter, a left ventricular assist device was implanted to maintain the pumping of his heart.

Carew, who played from 1967 to 1985, spent 12 seasons with the Twins and seven with the California Angels. He was a seven-time American League batting champion and first-ballot selection to the Hall of Fame.