While the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants haven’t been the only teams making big moves in free agency to try and position themselves towards winnings the World Series, they’ve probably stood out in their aggressiveness and what some would call success.
The Cubs, after years of missing the playoffs, made the NLCS last season, their first appearance in the series for the pennant since 2003. Getting swept by the New York Mets helped them decide that in order to compete in the so difficult NL Central and this time make it into the World Series, using their deep pockets and not just relying on their excellent farm system and player development is what it’s going to take.
The Cubs were especially focused on Cardinals players, beginning with John Lackey to help a rotation that struggled in the playoffs, signing the 37-year old on a two-year, $32 million deal. Lackey might be old, but he posted a career best 2.77 ERA in 2015, going 13-10 and finishing 9th on the Cy Young voting, carrying on with posting his solid 7.1 strikeouts per nine innings, not showing any drop off in that aspect.
The big poach from the Cardinals was Jason Heyward, the fantastic defensive center fielder who won his third Gold Glove last season and hit a career best .293 with 13 home runs. The Cardinals and Nationals offered him more money (around $200 million overall), but the future and present of the Cubs made him sign the eight-year, $184 million contract.
Another player all the league was after was Ben Zobrist, fresh off winning the world series with the Kansas City Royals. Zobrist signed a four-year deal worth $56 million. Again, he had bigger offers, but the two time All-Star who sometimes makes it seem like he can play anywhere on the field, felt his best shot of getting close to the World Series was with the Cubs.
The Cubs also traded the talented Starlin Castro in order to address their pitching needs with Adam Warren. But when you talk about pitching, the Arizona Diamondbacks made the big investment, but they feel like a team that needs more than Shelby Miller and Zack Greinke in order to break the current glass ceiling. The Giants, however, with their usual focus on starting pitching and the upcoming even-numbered year, seem more primed to go all the way.
The Giants went after two expensive players and paid handsomely for them. Johnny Cueto, redeeming himself in the World Series, signed a six-year, $130 million deal he can opt out of in two years. Cueto thinks the Giants made a bargain with him, but they’re mostly hoping he can become as consistent as he was with the Cincinnati Reds, helping them set up another powerhouse rotation. Signing Jeff Samardzija for $90 million over five years was the completion of that task, yet they’re still looking for some hitting, especially from the outfield. They let Nori Aoki and Marlon Byrd go, and holding on to Brandon Crawford won’t be enough.
There are more contenders out there, maybe more than ever in the NL. But free agency always makes you feel that the big spenders want it more, especially with the Los Angeles Dodgers slightly backing away from their past levels of spending. Right now, which means absolutely nothing, both the Giants and the Cubs look like the teams to watch out for early in 2016.