We’re still several weeks away from the Winter Meetings, which means we remain in the liminal period of the offseason. Rumors have started to trickle out, but (outside of a surprise Will Smith signing) nothing major has happened, nor will anything likely happen for a while yet. Since there’s not much to write about besides rumors (and the Astros sign-stealing scandal, which has been covered in great detail elsewhere), I decided to look at three free agents I’ve seen linked to the Cubs that I’d like to lower expectations on, and three free agents that I’d like to draw peoples' attention to.
Shogo Akiyama (2/$6M)
Reports have recently surfaced that the Cubs are one of several teams interested in Japanese center fielder Shogo Akiyama. If you look just at Akiyama’s raw stats, they certainly impress. However, fans shouldn’t expect expect him to maintain his NPB numbers. Players from overseas usually see a drop-off in stats when they change leagues, and while I’d certainly have more faith in a hitter translating well than a pitcher right now due to the different baseball, I’d caution against making a signing like this out to be the highlight of the offseason. Clay Davenport’s translated stats for Akiyama put him at only a .779 OPS which would have him just .007 higher than Jason Heyward, who had a 98 OPS+ last year. So, the stat translations suggest he would be a roughly league-average hitter.
Heyward put up a 101 wRC+ according to FanGraphs, and had 2.0 bWAR and 1.9 fWAR while splitting time in center and right. I haven’t heard anything particularly striking either way about Akiyama’s defense, so if we assume he’s a league-average center fielder he would probably put up around 2 WAR in a season. This would be very valuable, especially considering there isn’t really another average center fielder on the market, outside of Jarrod Dyson. At MLB Trade Rumors' prediction of 2/$6M, he’s a relative steal and certainly worth the risk. That being said, even an average player is worth around 2 WAR, which would be a 2.7 WAR improvement on Albert Almora’s 2019. Akiyama would be a great signing for the Cubs, but fans shouldn’t rely on him to be the savior of the team’s offense.
Nicholas Castellanos (4/$56M)
Castellanos was nothing short of amazing after coming over to the Cubs via trade at the end of July, hitting .321/.356/.646, good for a 154 wRC+ and 2.0 fWAR. However, his walk rate was identical to Albert Almora’s, and it’s difficult to imagine him sustaining his post-trade level of production for long. The Cubs also reasonably don’t want to regularly play both Kyle Schwarber and Castellanos. If we assume that signing Castellanos would mean trading Schwarber, it’s hard to imagine a reunion working out.
The Cubs still seem higher on Schwarber than the rest of the league, and Schwarber finally looked like he was coming into his own at the end of the 2019 season, actually outhitting Castellanos by slashing .304/.394/.649 for a 163 wRC+ over the final two months of the season. Schwarber also has two more arbitration years, and would be much cheaper. Castellanos gave the Cubs more than they could have asked for, but with the team trying to save money, bringing him back doesn’t seem like the best move.
Cole Hamels (2/$28M)
As someone who loves changeups, I loved watching Cole Hamels pitch while he was with the Cubs, but a reunion here doesn’t make much sense to me. Hamels won’t be terribly expensive, but some combination of Tyler Chatwood, Alec Mills, Colin Rea, and Adbert Alzolay should be able to fill the fifth-starter spot. If the Cubs feel they do need another starter, they would probably be better-served going after one of the higher-level options available. Additionally, others seem much more bullish on Hamels than I do after he struggled mightily with his command due to an oblique injury (although his final start of the season was very impressive). I don’t doubt that Hamels will be a cromulent starter next season, but I don’t think this is the right kind of risk for the Cubs to take while they have other candidates waiting for a chance to prove themselves.
Drew Pomeranz (2/$16M)
I would really like to see Pomeranz with the Cubs next season. As a reliever in 2019, he struck out 47.2% of the batters he faced, with a 1.92 FIP and 1.88 ERA. Pomeranz' strikeout rate in relief was second only to Josh Hader among relievers with at least 20 innings pitched in 2019. It seems aggressive to sign a pitcher solely on a sample of only 106 batters faced, but while Pomeranz will almost certainly regress somewhat, his breakout doesn’t seem like a fluke. Rather, it’s a classic: a once-highly-touted starting-pitcher prospect went to the bullpen, found an extra couple ticks on his fastball, and threw his bad pitches less. There are probably many teams interested in Pomeranz, who may be the best reliever left on the market now that Will Smith signed with the Braves. I wouldn’t be surprised if he parlays his success into a larger contract than many predicted, but it won’t be a bank-breaking amount. Pomeranz would provide something the Cubs desperately need: a dominant lefty who could go multiple innings when necessary.
Mike Moustakas (2/$32M)
Another former Brewer, Moustakas is the kind of above-average player the Cubs were missing last season. Combined with the fact that he can play both second and third-base, providing new manager David Ross with some matchup flexibility, I think he could be a great fit for the Cubs. Age is a slight concern here, but if he were willing to accept a two-year deal that would line up with the expiration of many of the Cubs' current contracts, it’s hard to imagine this signing coming back to bite them.
Will Harris (2/$20M)
Yes, he gave up two of the biggest home runs of the World Series, but Harris has been better over the last several years than any Cubs reliever. He has the 17th-lowest FIP of any reliever who pitched at least 120 innings over the last three seasons, slightly lower than Craig Kimbrel. He just pitched his age-35 season, so there’s risk involved in signing him to a longer deal, but it’s the type of risk a team like the Cubs should be able to take given their market size. The Cubs lost Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, and Pedro Strop to free agency, which means they need relief help from somewhere. Harris is about as good as you can get.