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6 players not named Aaron Judge who could fit the needs — and budgets — of the Chicago Cubs and White Sox – Boston Herald


One of the great observations of the Chicago baseball scene appeared several decades ago in a column by my former Chicago Tribune colleague Steve Daley.

“Baseball has no offseason in Chicago,” Daley wrote. “Interest only starts to wane when the teams start to play their games.”

That was long before the Cubs and White Sox ended their respective championship droughts, when both teams spent the winter months bragging about all their moves, only to watch those big signings blow up in their faces the following season.

That still happens, of course, but the price of free agency has increased dramatically, so spectacular free-agent flops can handcuff a team for years. Adam Dunn, Kosuke Fukudome and Jason Heyward are a few of the big-name signings who came to town with great expectations but failed to deliver over the course of their deals.

Now Cubs President Jed Hoyer and White Sox general manager Rick Hahn are back on the lookout for much-needed help in what figures to be a crucial offseason for the two executives.

Hoyer has vowed to spend “intelligently” to bring the Cubs back to relevancy, while Hahn has said he’s more likely to go the trade route after the highest payroll in Sox history netted a .500 season.

No one expects either team to vie for Aaron Judge, but there are several free agents the Cubs can sign without mortgaging the future and many stopgap options in free agency or on the trade market for Hahn to persue with his limited budget.

Here are six players not named Aaron Judge who could help keep interest from waning when the Cubs and Sox begin play in 2023.

1. Justin Verlander

The 39-year-old Houston Astros ace who soon will be awarded his third Cy Young Award was on the Cubs’ radar in August 2017 when they decided to pass on a deal with the Detroit Tigers. Verlander reportedly wanted to be dealt to the Cubs instead of the Astros. Hoyer later told WSCR-AM 670: “There’s ones that you beat yourself up over because you think: ‘What could we have seen differently? Could we have predicted this? Obviously we didn’t. (Verlander’s) late-career resurgence has been amazing.” With a 1.75 ERA, an 0.83 WHIP and 185 strikeouts in 175 innings, Verlander remains dominant despite his advancing age. He opted out of the final year of his contract, which would’ve paid him $25 million, and likely would command somewhere in the neighborhood of Max Scherzer’s $43 million annual salary from his three-year, $130 million deal last year with the New York Mets. Would two years at around $80 million to $90 million be “intelligent” for Hoyer? A rotation led by Verlander, Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele and Kyle Hendricks would make the Cubs the envy of the many teams.

2. Pablo López

The Sox eventually are going to need to upgrade the rotation with Lucas Giolito hitting free agency after 2023, and the 26-year-old Miami Marlins starter reportedly is available. López has two years of arbitration remaining before free agency after 2024 and is durable with 180 innings and 32 starts, finishing with a 3.75 ERA. Many Sox fans would like to see Johnny Cueto return, but the veteran likely will seek a multiyear deal after an admirable 2022 performance, and it’s risky to think he can deliver those kind of numbers again.

3. Dansby Swanson

If the Cubs are really serious about spending, that means they’ll try to sign one of the premier free-agent shortstops, moving Nico Hoerner to second base. Swanson would be the best bet since he will be more affordable than Trea Turner, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts and seems like a perfect fit for what manager David Ross likes in a player. His 6.8 WAR last season was second only to Francisco Lindor among major-league shortstops, and he’s also the best defensively of the group. Swanson’s personality would make him the toast of Wrigley Field.

4. Michael Brantley

With Oscar Colás likely to get a shot at the right-field job, Andrew Vaughn moving to first and Eloy Jiménez as the regular designated hitter, a left-handed hitting left fielder will be a priority for the Sox. Free agent Brandon Nimmo is out of their price range, but Brantley, who turns 36 in May and was limited to 64 games after having shoulder surgery in June, could be available on a short-term deal. Brantley has a career .311 average against right-handed pitching, along with an .841 OPS. He’s a proven hitter with a .300 career average in 61 games at Sox Park and worth a flier for what he would bring to the lineup.

5. DJ LeMahieu

Bringing back a former Cub to play first base is a move most fans would endorse, though they’re probably thinking about another Yankees player, Anthony Rizzo. LeMahieu, 34, has four years and $60 million remaining on his deal, and unlike José Abreu, another Cubs target, can play first, second or third. With the Yankees trying to re-sign Aaron Judge, they’ll need to cut salary elsewhere, and LeMahieu could be available for a relatively low cost. Theo Epstein dealt LeMahieu to the Colorado Rockies in 2011 in the ill-fated Ian Stewart trade, perhaps his worst as Cubs president.

6. Whit Merrifield

New White Sox manager Pedro Grifol is well-acquainted with Merrifield, who was dealt from the Kansas City Royals to the Toronto Blue Jays last summer. The second baseman and leadoff hitter is signed through 2023 with an $18 million mutual option for 2024. He’ll be 34 next year, so if the Sox acquired him it likely would be for a one-season rental, as he’s not worth $18 million. Danny Mendick is their best current option at second, and he’s returning from a torn ACL in his right knee from a collision in June and might not be ready. A steady veteran bat who also plays the outfield, Merrifield could be a version of Leury Garcia with a better chance of getting on base.



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