LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The winter meetings aren’t even a day old, and already, the Chicago Cubs' strategy is coming into focus. Actually, it began to come into focus last Thursday, when the Cubs signed right-hander Tyler Chatwood to a three-year deal for $38 million. On Sunday, they agreed to a two-year contract with righty Brandon Morrow, who should be the team’s closer, considering his reported $10 million-plus per year salary. The Cubs haven’t commented yet, as Morrow’s deal is not yet official.
What do the two signings have in common? Besides occurring before the winter meetings officially kicked in, they both represent a relatively small investment by the team. Instead of committing longer term in years and dollars to Wade Davis, Jake Arrieta or other bigger names, the Cubs elected to keep some flexibility while filling the holes on the staff.
Of course, the saying "you get what you pay for" comes to mind with signing second-tier guys, but that isn't to say Chatwood and Morrow won’t be excellent for their new team. Even so, the Cubs chose certainty in signing them while conceivably leaving the door open for a bigger contract. It’s not like the Cubs have run out of money. So far, they've taken a more measured approach, and that keeps them from being forced to make a move. With openings all over the pitching staff as winter began, the last thing the front office wanted was to be left rushing to fill holes.
“It’s such a frenzied environment at the winter meetings,” Theo Epstein said last week. “It’s important to step back and not get caught up in any sort of deal momentum.”
With two solid pitchers added to the fold, the Cubs can conceivably still discuss deals with Arrieta and/or Davis, though the chance that either player returns feels like a longer shot today than it did a week ago. More than likely, the Cubs will continue with the path they're on, as free-agent righty Alex Cobb is still on their radar. His situation should gain some clarity in the coming days, and a contract for him would be closer to that of Chatwood’s than Arrieta’s.
The Cubs' strategy might have been different if they had just one hole to fill -- say, for an ace. Then a huge contract for Arrieta or another pitcher would make more sense. But signing Arrieta and then filling two or three other holes on the staff -- without a trade -- probably wasn’t in the budget. The Cubs are doing things the right way because these smaller investments are allowing them to fill out their staff without losing the one thing that makes them special: depth. Smaller free-agent signings combined with keeping their base of position players intact while still allowing Arrieta or another bigger name to return might just be the best way to go when you consider how much the Cubs needed this offseason.
The Cubs aren’t finished, but they’re well on their way to accomplishing their goals. Their approach might not be the right strategy every winter, but it very well might be for this one.