The Cubs have undergone a major overhaul this offseason, as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have worked hard at making the team younger while also bolstering a farm system lacking depth.
However, through it all, one question keeps popping in my head: Who is going to be the Cubs ace?
Currently, Matt Garza appears to be the de facto ace for the Cubs. However, that is in name only. On a good team, he would be no better than a #2 or #3 starter.
The Cubs top pitching prospects don't project to be future aces either, as Trey McNutt and Dillon Maples both project as #2 starters, at best.
Thus, the Cubs will need to look outside their organization to find an ace. Enter Cole Hamels.
Hamels, who recently agreed to a one-year, $15 million deal with the Phillies, buying out his last year of arbitration, is likely to be a free agent after 2012. The Phillies have discussed an extension with him, but it doesn't appear that it will happen.
The Cubs will likely have some cash to spend after the 2012 season. Carlos Zambrano and his $15.5 million remaining commitment will be off the books, along with Ryan Dempster ($14 million) and Marlon Byrd ($6.5 million). Even with arbitration raises for current Cubbies (Geovany Soto, Chris Volstad, Ian Stewart, Jeff Samardzija, Blake DeWitt and first time eligible Starlin Castro), the Cubs should have at least $20-25 million to spend.
That should be enough to sign someone like Hamels. The most recent comparable pitcher to hit free agency was C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia was 27 when he reached free agency, while Hamels will be 29. Sabathia ended up signing an 8-year, $182 million contract for an average salary of $22.75 per year. I expect Hamels to get 8 years and close to $200 million.
As with most star players, the biggest competition for Hamels services will likely come from the Yankees and the Red Sox. Which means the Cubs could end up in a bidding war. But, if I were the GM for the Cubs, I would go all out in an attempt to sign Hamels. Even if the Cubs are on the 3-year rebuilding plan, they are going to need an ace when the team is ready to contend in 2014 or 2015 and Hamels appears to be the best candidate for that role.
I have recently joined the staff of Full Spectrum Baseball and will be writing fantasy articles for their site to be posted weekly on Saturday and Tuesday mornings. The site has some excellent writers, led by Bill Ivie (I70 Baseball) and Daniel Aubain (COSFBA) and I'm looking forward to working with them. Please check out the new site (just went live today) and let us know what you think.