Three realistic free-agent targets for the Cubs

Outfielder Michael Conforto is a coveted free agent, but is he a piece the Cubs could build with?

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The Cubs have a lot of money to spend this offseason after many years of being at or above the collective bargaining threshold (CBT). But after their moves at last season’s trade deadline, they finally have some breathing room and financial flexibility with their payroll around $78 million.

While the Cubs have the resources to spend in free agency, it isn’t likely they will go after any high-priced targets. Players like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager or Max Scherzer are not likely in the plans for the Cubs, who are at least two years from contending again.

With president Jed Hoyer adamant the Cubs will contend and also spend money this offseason, who are realistic free-agent targets in 2022?

Michael Conforto, OF

Conforto might not be in the top tier of free agents this winter, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be a big addition to the Cubs’ outfield. Since the departure of Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo, the team has been in need of some additional power. Enter Conforto.

Conforto, who had an injury-plagued 2021, slashed 232/.344/.384 with 14 homers. When healthy, he can hit the ball out of the ballpark. He had 88 homers from 2017-19 and a .515 slugging percentage in the shortened 60-game season.

Unlike others on this list, Conforto comes with a qualifying offer (QO) attached, meaning they would lose their second-highest draft pick in 2022 for signing him.

Conforto would fill a variety of needs for the Cubs, and at 28 years old, he’s a player they could rebuild with.

Jon Gray, RHP

Gray has been considered a trade target for a while now, and now that the Rockies have let the right-hander walk, he is a prime free-agent candidate. Gray has had an up-and-down career in Colorado. While it may look like he hasn’t had a ton of success with two seasons with an ERA over 4.00, he has had four seasons with an ERA+ (park-adjusted) over 100, which takes into account pitching at offense-friendly Coors Field.

The Cubs have been open about their need for more velocity in their rotation and striking hitters out. Gray’s four-seam fastball, which sits at 95 mph, and slider combination would fit that description. Not being attached to a qualifying offer and not losing draft-pick compensation also makes him an appealing target.

Hansel Robles, RHP

The bullpen was the Cubs’ strength during the first half of the season, with Craig Kimbrel, Ryan Tepera and Andrew Chafin leading the way. But after each of them were moved at the deadline, the need for veteran arms was apparent again.

Robles has had a lot of success in the big leagues. After starting out last season with a 4.91 ERA with the Twins, he regained some of that success with the Red Sox by having a 3.60 ERA.

The right-hander would provide a veteran presence in the back of the bullpen as Codi Heuer, Rowan Wick and Manny Rodriguez continue to grow in their roles. He would also be a good flip candidate at the deadline if he has a strong first half in 2022.

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