The first two weeks after the World Series ends, are considered to be the most exciting period of the off season. With everything that goes on during this time period, you can understand why some people feel this way. Starting the day after the World Series ends, all players who are eligible to do so, can file for free agency, and their club has an exclusive 15 day period to resign them. During this time frame, the teams will hold their own private meetings, just to lay out a blue print for what they believe needs to be done for the up coming season. Also during this time, the General Manager meetings are usually held, which have officially started today, November 9. Here, the GMs will normally sit down with one another, and start discussing various trade ideas and scenarios just to get the idea out there to see if there is any real interest. This is when you will be overloaded with some crazy trade rumors floating around, but that is part of what makes the off season so much fun.
With the Organizational Meetings having already taken place, and the GM meetings just getting underway, there isn’t a whole lot to look at for the moment. Instead, lets focus on the five players who the Cubs have to make a decision on for the upcoming season. Both Reed Johnson and Rich Harden have already filed for free agency, which was expected and is a common practice, even if you want to stay with your current club. The Chicago Cubs have already begun contract talks with John Grabow, as he is also one of their free agents. Finally we have Chad Fox and Kevin Gregg who are also on the list of Cubs free agents. But who should the Cubs bring back for the 2010 campaign, and who shouldn’t they give a second thought to?
The first player on the list, is Grabow. Why is he first you ask? He is first because the Cubs have made themselves known to want him back. The Cubs are already deep into contract talks with him, and should be relatively close to announcing his signing. Since coming over from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Grabow put up an impressive 3.24 earned run average in 25 innings pitched. I believe that putting him in the back end of the bullpen to be your situational lefty reliever would benefit the team more then some would realize. Add him to the mix for Carlos Marmol at closer and Angel Guzman in a setup role, and you have the making of what could be an impressive tail end to the bullpen.
Sadly, Grabow may very well be the only one of the five free agents to return to the Cubs for the 2010 season. With the payroll only getting a slight increase from the 2009 campaign, Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry has to pick his spots very carefully and go over every option with a fine tooth comb. Would he like to bring back other players besides, Grabow? I am sure he would, but sometimes tough decisions have got to be made. Much like when he made the decision to let Kerry Wood leave in free agency, Hendry may be saying goodbye to another player who has gained popularity rather quickly with the Cub fans.
In his two years with the club, Johnson has made some extraordinary catches which will be on highlight reels for the Cubs for years. Who can forget his superman dive in Washington, or his stealing of a Grand Slam away from Prince Fielder? Unfortunately, Johnson may be forced to find a new home, despite how well liked he is in the clubhouse, because he may be asking for more money than the Cubs can afford. Last year, Johnson made $3 million and only played in 65 games due to a few injuries. His return to the ballclub may depend on how much he really wants to play for the Cubs, and if he is willing to take a fairly significant pay cut. As much as I would love to see Johnson come back, as would Ted Lilly who was sporting the ‘With Reed We Will Succeed’ shirt at the end of the season, I am afraid that this is just one more wish and hope that will be left unfulfilled.
Another player who is apparently heading out of town is Harden. Unlike with Johnson, who a majority of fans want back, the field is split on whether or not the Cubs should ask Harden back next year. Much like with Johnson, his return may very well depend on how much he wants to stay. With rumors floating around about Harden potentially in line for a multi-year contract worth around $10 million a year, that is a price that will be too high for a player who has suffered through as many injuries as he has had. His one and a half years in Chicago have been relatively injury free, starting 38 games and pitching over 200 innings. However, the rumored asking price, and length of contract would be far too rich for the Cubs to even consider. There are a number of young arms in the Cubs system that could slide in and take his spot in the rotation, saving the ball club millions of dollars.
As far as Gregg goes, there will not be a tear shed by Cub fans when he is given his walking papers. He quickly lost favor with Cub fans, pitching poorly and giving out games almost immediately. While he was able to put together good stretches in various points in the season, he quickly lost all of his bonus points by blowing what should have been an easy couple of saves in a row. Trading young prospect Jose Ceda for Gregg might have been one of the worst moves Hendry could have made in the off season. While he is considered to be one of the better players hitting free agency, the Cubs will not even consider giving him a contract extension. In fact, they will likely even pass on offering him Arbitration and give up the likelihood of getting draft pick from in just in case he accepts. If he accepts, the Cubs can non-tender him and nothing is lost. But why waste the time going through the entire Arbitration process? The Cubs will not give him a second look.
That brings us to the final member of the Cubs free agent list, that being Fox. He will definitely not be back with the Cubs in 2010. In fact, he should never have come back again. I give him all the credit in the world for wanting to pitch, and for continuing to try. However, sooner or later you have to know when to throw the towel in. When you can barely make a single outing without injuring your arm, you have to figure that the time has come to say goodbye.
Hendry has some tough decisions to make, and has likely already made up his mind on which of the players he wants to keep. With payroll being limited, you can not keep everyone you would like to keep, which means that you have to say goodbye to someone you love. Unfortunately, the signs are pointing towards Grabow being the only Cubs free agent retained. How the Cubs fill the new vacancies remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised to see a lot of minor league players up with the team next year.