Many fans cringe at the thought of free-agent acquisitions (and after the Alfonso Soriano mega-contract, I sure can’t blame them). Others view the free-agent process as an opportunity to get creative and quickly improve the ballclub. Either way, this year’s collection of available players is intriguing to say the least.

How active should the Cubs be this offseason? For the purposes of our discussion, let’s agree on a couple concepts: 1) The Cubs front office is free and clear to spend a little money.  2) The Cubs will say “no thank you” to the likes of Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke, Michael Bourn, and Rafael Soriano.

So who’s left for free-agent tire kicking and bargain hunting? Here’s a quick list of possible fits (PLEASE NOTE, I SUBMITTED THIS ARTICLE ON NOVEMBER 3RD. SOME OF THESE PLAYERS MAY HAVE SIGNED BY THE TIME IT POSTS):

  • Dan Haren—The Cubs almost acquired Haren for Carlos Marmol, but the deal fell apart at the last minute. Instead, the Angels declined Haren’s 2013 option and made him a free agent. Haren has been brilliant at times during his 10-year career, but he battled back problems for much of the season and saw his velocity drop. Even with those question marks, Haren stands to cash in. I’d be more than willing to gamble on his health for a one-year or two-year deal, but I doubt Haren would accept those terms. Signing with the Cubs seems like a long shot to me.
  • Shaun Marcum—Another starter coming off an injury-plagued 2012, Marcum has been pretty consistent when healthy. Like Haren, he’s a strike thrower: 2.8 walks per 9 IP in 149 career starts. Marcum made $7 million last year, so his price tag should be less than Haren’s. Could the Cubs land him for something like two years, $16 million? If so, count me in.
  • Brandon McCarthy—Say hello to another interesting free agent starter…Do you see a trend? McCarthy is coming off a solid year that ended with a nasty head injury. Assuming a full recovery, he may be another cost-effective band aid for the Cubs bloody rotation. Of course pitching in Oakland helped his numbers, but McCarthy looks like a reasonable short-term investment to me.
  • Kelly Johnson, Maicer Izturis, or Steven Drew—With apologies to the Darwin Barney fan club, the Cubs could sure use some offense at 2B. And even if you don’t agree with me, Johnson, Izturis or Drew would likely be cost-effective options for a super-utility player who could provide some offense across the infield. If Barney improves as a hitter, maybe this player sticks as the starting 3B vs. RHP instead. No matter what, the Cubs should be able to get one of them at a nice price, as all three are coming off a disappointing 2012.
  • Kevin Youkilis—And speaking of 3B…How the mighty have fallen. It wasn’t long ago that Youkilis was an elite player who racked up an OPS in the .900’s. Those days appear to be gone, but the 33-year-old former slugger still has on-base value. Are the Cubs willing to overpay for a short-term 3B (hopefully keeping the spot warm until Javier Baez is ready)? How many years will Youkilis and his agent demand? If the Cubs can grab him for one year with an option, I think it’s worth pursuing. Otherwise, let another team write a big check for past performance.
  • Platoon Partners: With David DeJesus and Brett Jackson in the outfield mix, the Cubs will need at least one righty bat. Free agent options include Jonny Gomes, Reed Johnson, Andruw Jones, and Cody Ross. Nothing to write home about, but then again we’re only talking about 250 PA’s or less.
  • The Bullpen—Even if Marmol stays, the Cubs still need relief help. The good news…it’s another buyer’s market for the bullpen. Before I start tossing out names, let me restate the obvious: Giving a reliever a multi-year deal is completely unnecessary and borderline insane. There’s way too much depth out there to overpay in terms of contract length. Having said that, here are a few useful arms seeking employment (I left out the pitchers who will likely be “overpay” candidates): Jason Frasor, Mike Gonzalez, J.P. Howell, Brandon Lyon, Vincente Padilla, Joel Peralta, and Joakim Soria. At least two from this list should be available via one-year, team-friendly deals. If not, there’s still plenty of water in the reliever well. Don’t believe me? Say hello to Plan B: Juan Cruz, Brian Fuentes, Jason Grilli, Brad Lidge, Kameron Loe, Guillermo Mota, Chad Qualls, and Jon Rauch.

I think we all agree that the Cubs are still a few years away from serious contention. But a handful of strategic free agent signings could help bring the Northsiders back to respectability while Theo and the Theo-ettes continue to build through the draft. Yes, it’s possible to do both.

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