Despite a horrific 96-loss 2013 campaign, the Cubs have made very few moves to improve the roster. I’m not going to sit here and bash their front office for this strategy, and in fact I’m actually in favor of it, but that doesn't mean this 2014 Cubs roster is going to be very exciting from a fantasy perspective-- certainly not early in the season. It’d be foolish to think that this roster, which looks so much like the one that they had at the close of the 2013 season, will improve significantly. The front office has made a few small acquisitions, and they've let a few valuable role players leave the team. Since this is a fantasy baseball site, let’s take a look at those minor transactions and their fantasy implications.
The Cubs have lost few major league pieces this offseason, though that is mainly due a front office that was extremely busy this past summer. The Cubs unloaded most of their best players in July, including Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus. The remaining roster lost games at a frightening pace, posting a 17-38 record after August 1.
Unsurprisingly, such a poor roster had little left to lose. The biggest loss is that of more-than-a-backup catcher Dioner Navarro, who has left for a full starting position in Toronto. Navarro was excellent in 2013, hitting .300/.365/.492 with 13 HR in just 89 games. In his absence, Welington Castillo will (hopefully) assume the role of full-time starting catcher. If Castillo can hit close to his second half of 2013 (.288/.388/.475), he’ll be worth rostering in all leagues.
Kevin Gregg has also departed, clearing up space in the late innings for newcomers Jose Veras, Pedro Strop, Blake Parker and possibly Kyuji Fujikawa. Scott Baker, who made three decent starts to end the season, is in free-agent limbo; in Bakers absence, Jake Arrieta is more likely to start the season in the rotation.
The Cubs lost some role players this offseason, too. Cody Ransom has left for Japan, but he had lost most of his playing to Donnie Murphy by the end of the season anyway. Brian Bogusevic, who was a decent deep-league platoon option last season, has been traded to the Marlins and will now play his home games in the second-worst ballpark for left-handed power hitters. I’m not sure Bogusevic would have had any value outside of the deepest of leagues even if he had remained with the Cubs, but he definitely won't be making a fantasy impact with the Marlins.
Of (somehow) even less importance are the losses of Marcos Mateo (Rule 5 Draft) and Chang-Yong Lim (Non-Tendered), who may have cracked the bullpen at some point in 2014, but certainly wouldn’t have challenged for holds or saves in a bullpen that looks pretty solid on paper.
In a division that produced three 2013 playoff teams, and with a roster needing more talent than can simply be bought in free agency, the Cubs shouldn’t expect to compete in 2014, and their offseason acquisitions suggest that the front office feels the same way.
The most important signing has been Jose Veras, who will very likely pitch in the 9th inning this season. Nothing is certain, but on his current deal he looks like the typical sign-and-flip acquisition the Cubs have been fond of recently, and having him rack up saves is a surefire way to inflate his trade value. You should take advantage of the same inflation if you wind up drafting Veras, as if/when he is traded to a different MLB club, he’ll probably lose his job as closer. And while Veras posted a shiny 3.02 ERA with a stellar 1.07 WHIP, I see little reason to think he has evolved that much as a pitcher. Expect something similar to his 2011-2013 average in 2014 (3.50-3.60 ERA, 1.20-1.30 WHIP, lots of strikeouts, too many walks).
Outside of Veras, the Cubs added no pieces that you should be considering in standard leagues. Wesley Wright will be a LOOGY with good strikeout numbers, no saves, few holds and nonexistent fantasy value. Justin Ruggiano probably sees very few starts outside of his platoon role against lefties, and you shouldn't consider rostering a guy who mainly hits on the thin side of a platoon. Ryan Roberts may be worth considering in deep leagues if he gets a roster spot out of Spring Training, but for him to get the plate appearances necessary to be interesting, the Cubs would need to make a few other moves. The Cubs also traded for George Kottaras, but as a backup catcher he shouldn’t show up on your draft preparation sheets outside of fairly deep NL-only formats.
The 2014 Cubs will be bringing back two players on one-year deals who may record positive fantasy value. The biggest of these is Nate Schierholtz, who was very good as a platoon RF in 2013, hitting .251/.301/.470 with 21 HR and ranking 198th overall on the Player Rater. He will continue to hit vs. RHP only, so you’ll have to carefully watch his daily matchups, but the power is legitimate and he should be worth the late-round pick he’ll cost.
The Cubs will also be bringing back Luis Valbuena, who showed decent pop and on-base skills before he got injured. Valbuena has been playing nothing but second base in the Venezuelan Winter League, and may play there on the fat side of a platoon role with Darwin Barney in 2014. He’s not an ideal fantasy player by any means, but those of you in OBP leagues should keep an eye on him on the waiver wire. His strong walk rate as a Cub (12.8%) would rank second among qualified 2B over the last two seasons, and his decent ISO (.143 as a Cub, .160 in 2013) would rank near the back-end of the top ten amongst the same group.
Two other players returning to the Cubs are Donnie Murphy and Ryan Sweeney. Murphy, despite hitting .255 with 12 HR with 11 HR in 2013, should not be expected to return positive value in 2014, while Sweeney isn't valuable in fantasy even when he’s healthy, which is almost never.
Other Possible Moves?
The offseason isn't over yet, and Cubs fans holding out hope for a respectable 2014 team are looking at two possible moves to bolster the rotation. The first is signing Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka. If Tanaka comes to the Cubs, he’ll probably be their best pitcher in 2014, and his presence would increase the bullpen’s collective fantasy value. The other move Cubs fans have been talking about for a long time is acquiring David Price. I doubt that this will come to pass, as the potential cost in prospects would likely be prohibitively large, but should a deal go down, Price would immediately become the Cubs’ best pitcher. If either possibility comes to fruition, we’ll break it down for you here.