The Hope Monster Strikes Back : how the Cubs can contend in 2013

Julie posed this series of questions over at LOHO today. 

1) Where does this team finish in the 2013 NL Central?

2) Do the 2013 Cubs lose 100 games?

3) What moves still need to be made to make this team competitive (and be realistic, no “sign ARod” or any of that baloney).

The easy answers to these questions are

1) 5th

2) Yes

3) Arrange for meteors to strike St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati

…but to try to make a more serious reply, here's what I thought they would need to do. They won't do it, of course, because they don't want to win want to lose for the decade following 2013 with a bare farm system. But let's look at what they have to work with.

The Cubs won 61 games last year. In order to contend you generally need around 90 wins, so let's go with that as the threshold. The Cubs simply need to add 30 wins in the offseason to do it. 

Let's pretend money is more or less not an object for a moment, and the Cubs sign the top remaining free agents. (I'm adding educated WAGs on their WAR total based on the Bill James projection)

  • Josh Hamilton, LF – 4 WAR
  • Michael Bourn, CF – 3.5 WAR
  • Anibal Sanchez, SP – 3.5 WAR
  • Nick Swisher, RF – 3.5 WAR
  • Edwin Jackson, SP – 3 WAR
  • Kyle Lohse, SP – 2.5 WAR
  • Kevin Youkilis, 3B – 2 WAR
  • Joakim Soria, CL – 1.5 WAR

Let's ignore for a second the value of the players that they're replacing. This means that Adolfo and DeJesus are gone, and the rotation would be Sanchez, Jackson, Garza, Lohse, Shark. The bullpen is still pretty terrible, as is the catcher position, so there's room for improvement there. There's not much FA wise with relievers, and due to volatility you never know what you're going to get anyway. The Cubs have MVP Shawn Camp in the pen anyway so they should be fine. 

If the Cubs don't land one of those OF, they could always trade, say, Javier Baez and Brett Jackson (and probably more) for Justin Upton, who would instantly be the best player on the team (above any of the FAs listed). 

How much would this cost in 2013? If we go with a probably extremely generous $5.5m per win, this would cost ~$130 million dollars on the FA market. Additionally, Swisher, Hamilton, Bourne, and Lohse were given qualifying offers, which would mean that the Cubs would lose their second through fifth round picks in the draft if I remember the CBA correctly. Obviously that doesn't even consider how much those contracts will cost the team in future years either.

Even then, that's only an additional 23.5 wins, which would bring the cubs up to around 84-85 wins. They'd need to pick up another 5 or 6 wins in improvments from Castro, Rizzo, Samardzija, and various bullpen fodder, some career years from the veterans, some sequencing luck/regression, if you think they were unlucky last year, and solid performance from new addition Kyuji Fujikawa. 

It's gonna happen!

Seriously though, this just helps put how much of a hole the Cubs are in right now in perspective.