Early Off-Season Storylines for the Chicago Cubs

The Cubs’ managerial search continued on Monday when Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer reportedly interviewed Rick Renteria in San Diego. Renteria is the third candidate known to have interviewed for the Cubs’ job. Epstein and Hoyer are expected to speak with Dave Martinez this week in Chicago about the skipper’s job after receiving permission from the Rays to talk to Joe Maddon’s bench coach.

The Cubs’ skipper search is expected to expand and include additional candidates, but as of Monday, some consider Rick Renteria to be the frontrunner for the job.

Theo Epstein is looking to hire his new skipper by the General Managers meetings on November 11. Once the Cubs have the new manager and coaching staff in place, the front office’s attention will turn to the other areas of the team that should be addressed this off-season.

It figures to be anything but a quiet winter for the Chicago Cubs and there will be many storylines to keep an eye on as the calendar year comes to an end.

Wrigley Field Restoration

While some may view the Wrigley Field restoration project as a side story, that is simply not the case. The Cubs are not just trying to line their pockets with additional revenue. The nearly 100-year old park needs a major overhaul, starting with the players’ facilities, which in many cases are not up to minor league standards.

The Ricketts family has said since last January they need to make certain additions to the beloved ballpark to pay for the nearly $300 million required to update Wrigley. Tom Ricketts has been consistent in his statements that he is not willing to begin construction, which will take five off-seasons to complete, until he receives the proper assurances from the rooftop owners they will not pursue legal action to protect their views.

The Cubs and rooftop owners must work out their differences as soon as possible so the team can move forward with their five-year plan so patrons, inside and outside of the park, have a product they are willing to pay to see.

Arizona Fall League

The 2013 AFL season is underway and the Cubs have several prospects that will garner attention in the fall league. Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Wes Darvill and Armando Rivero are off to good starts while Jorge Soler, Dallas Beeler and Matt Loosen have been solid over the first week. Lendy Castillo, unfortunately, has been Lendy Castillo so far.

The front office was in attendance for the first few games and is using the AFL to get Almora, Bryant, Soler and Beeler the development time they missed during the minor league season. The Cubs need to see Almora and Soler stay healthy and on the field and for Beeler to stay on the mound. Loosen has a lot of potential and it will be interesting to see how he performs against many of the best young players in baseball. Wes Darvill is an intriguing player that the front office is trying to see what he can do against top-notch competition.

How these players perform in the AFL should have an impact on how they are slotted in the system when Spring Training begins which in turn will either speed up their target date for the big leagues or slow it down.

Catchers Wanted

Welington Castillo made big strides during the season both at the plate and behind it. The front office has said that Castillo is part of the core and the organization is very high on his future. But there is very little in the system behind Castillo and Rafael Lopez is the closest catcher to the big leagues and he played the entire season at the Double-A level.

So where will the Cubs go for a backstop?

Dioner Navarro is a free agent and figures to demand a big payday after a career year. Is Navarro worth a two-year deal in the $10-$12 million range? And if so, he is likely out of the Cubs’ price range.

Rumors have connected the Cubs to Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Brian McCann, but neither of those two veteran catchers would fit the Cubs’ need if they view Castillo as a piece to the team’s future.

The Cubs will soon have one catcher on their 40-man roster and this should be the first area the front office addresses after the manager and coaching staff are in place.

Darwin Barney

Will the Cubs trade their Gold Glove second baseman this winter? Darwin Barney is coming off another excellent year in the field and should be in the mix for his second straight fielding honor, but Barney took several steps back offensively and is arbitration eligible for the first time this winter.

Barney hit .208/.266/.303 with 25 doubles, one triple and seven home runs in 141 games. Barney managed a career low .569 OPS.

Darwin Barney’s glove would help a contending team with a good offense. Will the front office move Darwin Barney this winter and open a spot for Javier Baez in the infield?

Pitching, Pitching and More Pitching

The Cubs are expected to add pitching to the mix this off-season, both starters and relievers. The bullpen showed improvement at the end of the season but there are more questions than answers as the off-season begins.

It appears the Cubs will not re-sign Kevin Gregg this winter and will spend the off-season with Pedro Strop penciled in as the closer. And while that might not seem like a big deal, the team is eventually going to have to learn how to win games and nothing is more demoralizing to a young team than to play well for seven or eight innings just to lose the game. The best way to build a pen is from the backend up. And while Gregg was effective, there are too many similarities between his season and the one Shawn Camp put together in 2012 to spend free agent dollars to keep him in the fold. The Cubs have a few young arms that could fill roles. Justin Grimm, Zac Rosscup, James Russell, Daniel Bard, Hector Rondon and Blake Parker, plus veteran Chang-Yong Lim figure to begin the spring slotted in the the pen. It will be interesting to see if the front office adds a veteran or two to the mix this winter.

As for the starting rotation, there was talk at the end of the season that the team and Scott Baker had mutual interest in him re-signing in the off-season. Baker had two good starts and one that was not-so-good (six runs on nine hits in 15 innings with six strikeouts and four walks, 3.60 ERA, 0.87 WHIP) and he would figure to be asking for a similar contract to the one he signed last off-season (one-year, $5.5 million). It would seem that Baker will receive more interest this off-season than last winter and the Cubs’ managerial hire could have an impact on if Baker would like to return.

Rumors have suggested the Cubs will go after free agent Bronson Arroyo, but the fly ball pitcher might be looking for a contending team to sign with as he figures to be inking his last multi-year contract this winter.

Jeff Samardzija

Will the Cubs sign Jeff Samardzija to a long term extension this winter? Or, will the front office spend the off-season shopping their Opening Day starter?

The Cubs have made it known they would like to sign Jeff Samardzija to a long term contract. Samardzija is under team control for two more seasons and figures to be paid more than $6 million in his second year of arbitration.

Samardzija is coming off his first full season in a Major League starting rotation and was inconsistent at best. Samardzija set career highs in innings pitched (213 2/3) and strikeouts (214) and gave up less hits (210) than innings pitched. Samardzija finished with a 4.34 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP with just under a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio. And arms like Samardzija are not easy to come by.

Jeff Samardzija reportedly turned down an extension worth more than $30 million last winter and he could be looking for guarantees from the front office they are looking to win games now and not trade off every sellable piece by the end of July before he inks an extension.

If the Cubs can’t come to an agreement relatively quick with Samardzija, look for the front office to try to maximize his value this winter.

Travis Wood

Travis Wood is coming off an excellent season, one in which he posted career highs in innings pitched (200) and strikeouts (144) while allowing less hits (163) than innings pitched. Plus, Wood allowed career-lows in runs allowed (73) and earned runs (69).

Travis Wood has been mentioned as being a part of what the front office calls the core, could they be looking to sign him to a long term extension as well? Wood is arbitration eligible for the first time this winter and figures to receive quite a jump in pay from the $527,000 he earned last season.

Masahiro Tanaka

Will the Cubs put in a bid for Masahiro Tanaka? In one of his last chats on ESPN Chicago, Bruce Levine reported that Masahiro Tanaka would be the Cubs’ number one priority this off-season. But the Yankees and Giants are among the teams believed to be interested in Tanaka and the Yankees could outbid other teams for the right to negotiate a deal with him while still staying under the self-imposed $189 million payroll for next season. The posting fee, which could exceed $60 million, would not count against the team’s payroll and the Yankees could keep below the $189 million by signing him to a similar contract to the one Texas inked Yu Darvish (six years, $56 million). New York is looking to keep their 2014 payroll under $189 million to reset the luxury-tax money.

Teams are reportedly high on Tanaka and many see him as a top of the rotation starter. Whether or not he will be successful in the majors appears to be a gamble that could cost a team more than $120 million to roll the dice. Will the Cubs be at the table to place a bet?


The storylines will change on a daily and weekly basis as soon as the final out of the Fall Classic is recorded and once the manager and coaching staff are in place. The Cubs have a big off-season ahead of them in order to make the third year of the Theo EpsteinJed Hoyer regime a success.

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  • SuzyS

    In a perfect Cubs world, they would sign a Tanaka with no qualms…adding a young, talented arm just for the price of $$$ makes a lot of sense.
    But it isn’t a perfect Cubs World…
    The Wrigley Rehab and the ensuing funds the Cubs will derive from it, is the driving engine that will net the Cubs the resources to consistently contend. (Yes, new tv deals will be huge…but unless Wrigley is redone, the heart of the Cubs will still be old and worn. While boring…getting the rehab moving is probably the #1
    item leading us to playoff contention. The Cubs and rooftop owners have to come to an agreement soon…and get this project rolling…it is a drag on everything else.

    Tanaka, much to my chagrin, is probably not an option if he comes in at more than 1/3 of the estimated cost of the Wrigley project.

    I wish I was wrong…but my gut tells me I’m not.

  • SuzyS

    The one thing I am confident in…with Ricketts blessing…The Cubs have built an organizational

    infrastructure designed to compete with anyone in baseball. Scouting/Player development/Mesa facility/Dominican Facility…all have major upgrades in the last few years.
    I am confident that Theo/Jed are conducting a thorough search for manager and coaches. I really can’t ask for anything more than that…Under the regimes of old…If a mistake was made…we might live with it for a long time. With Theo/Jed…if there is a mistake…they attack it right away to get it right.
    That attitude alone will make us a winner in the future.

    • cubtex

      Examples? I know about Sveum. What other mistakes did they make that they attacked right away to get right?

      • SuzyS

        Cubtex…busy day…no time to elaborate today…catch you later.

        • SuzyS

          Cubtex, both bpot92 and triple offer fine examples of other mistakes rectified in a timely manner in their posts below.
          That should suffice for now.

      • bpot92

        Possibly the pitching depth and depth up the middle in the minors (catcher excluded obviously)? I dont know if this is what either of you meant, but these were mistakes made by the previous group that were corrected quickly

      • triple

        The lack of starting pitching after the 2012 starting pitcher mid-season fire sale was addressed for 2013. I’d expect again for the 2014 season that they will have 7 or 8 guys for the rotation, so when we get to the midseason sell off, there will still be 5 major league quality guys that remain.

        I think the pickup of Kevin Gregg was a great move as they saw Marmol was not gonna cut it right from the first week of the season. Not a long term replacement, but a good bandaid that got them through the season with a reliable closer. Just think what this season would have been like without him!?!?! They probably would be picking 2nd in the draft…well on second thought, maybe they shouldn’t have signed Gregg, but what about your sanity then?

        I also think it’s fairly safe to say that they’ve done plenty to shore up the future for 3b, SS, 2b, and a couple OF positions. However that is a question mark that we will know the answer to over the next couple years. Depending on how Rizzo responds to this past season, maybe 1b won’t be an issue anymore….as with the positions that have a multitude of prospects coming in the near future, the jury is still out, but at least there are guys in place that show potential much better than guys named Patterson, Pie, Vitters, and Jackson.

        We are 2 years into the rebuild, so in the next 2 to 3 more years, we will be seeing all of this front office’s draft picks coming to the top of the system. Then we will know if their draft picks and development are better than the previous regimes of the past.

  • 07GreyDigger

    The more and more I read about the rooftop saga, the more disgusted I become. Those bars around the stadium DEPEND on Wrigley Field and Cubs games for revenue. Anyone who has spent anytime in the neighborhood in the winter knows how dead is and has probably watched tumbleweeds blow down Clark Street.

    I’m not a bar owner, I don’t understand the relationship between them and the team, but I do know that if the team were to pick up and move, that a lot of these bars would have to close their doors. Why bite the hand that feeds you? Seems like poor business sense.

    • J Daniel

      I am with you 100% and am disgusted with the situation as well. The issue is that I don’t believe TR is willing to move the team and the rooftop owners feel the same way, therefore a standstill. IMO they should be looking at a new replica stadium with all of the added extras outside of the city and let it be known that there is a deadline to get it done or they move.

    • John_CC

      After Tunney made that snide remark about how needy the Cubs are and why don’t they start doing the work on the clubhouse that they said they would I would liked to have heard a quick, sharp response. I would have like to hear something to this effect:

      As we’ve stated many times, we cannot begin any construction until promises are made that we will not be sued over the proposed signage which is necessary to fund the entire project. We will not begin the clubhouse project or any other unless we know we can complete the entire planned project. After all $300 Million dollars can go a long way if beginning from scratch.

      Someone at the top needs to drop the bomb that it’s all or nothing and that all options will be on the table soon. I don’t think it should come from Tom R. so he doesn’t get embroiled personally, but someone in the top circle. How about Crane?

      • 07GreyDigger

        Great idea. I know Ricketts loves the neighborhood and all, but he needs to grow a pair here. No other organization would stand for this.

        The only parallel I can draw is between the Bears and the park district about the condition of the field. The Bears are not shy about complaining about it and most of the time, the park district hops to it. Obviously, there hasn’t been a permanent solution, but the relationship is a good example.

    • Rational Logic

      I really think they should just start building and take the lawsuit. It’s obvious the rooftops can’t afford to let the Cubs leave, and it’s obvious that the Cubs are going to do whatever it takes to get these initiatives in place. Even with the contract, the Cubs hold all the leverage as they could simply say they’ll move, putting those places out of business. Pick your poison.

      I think the Cubs should offer a lump sum payment, based on expected future cash flows for the next 5 years, discounted and call it even, or at worst, let the rooftops keep all but say, 5-7% of revenues they generate and let the Cubs build the plans already in place. Gives the rooftops time and money to find new revenue sources and let’s the Cubs move forward unencumbered by greedy and lazy leaches.

      • SuzyS

        Rational, I disagree that they should just take the lawsuit. Our court systems are extremely slow. A lawsuit could tie up the Cubs for years and years if a court put an injunction on them…stopping construction for a long time.
        Cubs are smart to pre-empt that…and get a clear sailing forecast…before they begin.

    • CubbyDenCritic

      I would love to see Theo pick up and move.
      Hello Rosemont!

  • CubbyDenCritic

    Hello all you Cubs fans…….
    What is better than waiting to hear who the next Cubs managers will be?……….fighting 25lb Red Snappers out in the Gulf !
    As I said earlier…..Joe was not coming back………we are talking about the New York Yankees…..Major Stars…….Playoffs……..World Series……
    Looks like we are down to “Plan D” now of finding a Cubs manager…….
    As I also said earlier, “No one experience manager wants to manage this team”…..
    I had the Rays & Braves in the World Series…..so much for that….
    Has anyone brought up the “Dave Martinez” incident yet?……
    Look for a San Diego / Boston connection as the next Cubs manager…….
    Time to scan the bottom of the F/A list……see what kinda of “T.J. reject” Theo turn around next July for a mid level prospect……
    Dusty Baker got fired……Reds finally saw the “light”…….
    No Construction….no permits ……no agreements……the problem is always coming back to having Lawyers involved……….it is all about “Greed”………..Bar Owners looking to get every dime they can get from an organization that helped them become rich, and then stab the Cubs in the back for even more money by listening to their Lawyers.
    The entre stadium needs repair……better to build a new stadium in a new area, a better plan, a better neighborhood, then to keep on supporting these “freeloaders” who want to have a revenue percentage of a organization they have no investment in.

  • Dorasaga

    Just wanna drop this rant: That was the best postseason pitching duel I’ve watched since 2005, perhaps 2004. Unlike the White Sox back then, both Boston and Detroit have lineups that are loaded with sluggers, and each pitch can turn out to be a loss. But both sides have tremendous pitchers who took command throughout this series, and the result is this INSTANT Classic.

    • CubbyDenCritic

      a month ago, I always said the Playoffs is about three elements…..pitching, pitching & pitching……
      Lets say that Almora, Baez, Bryant, Rizzo, Soler & Castro are clicking for us by 2016……who is our “Ace” by that time?
      Please, for those who will say it will be Samardzija or Price that will be our “Ace”, are the same ones who predicted Joe Girardi was going too return…….
      Team Theo will have to invest in more pitching in the upcoming drafts…..#4 pick in 2014….and another top 10 pick in 2015.
      This game of baseball is all about Pitching.

    • triple

      Man, every one of the ALCS/NLCS games have been gems! All but one game has been a 1-run game, including 3 of a score of 1-0, 2 have been won on walk-off hits. What else can a baseball fan ask for? I should comment that at this time, I haven’t started to watch tonight’s Cards/Dodgers game so I don’t really know where that one stands so far, but I’ll be firing up the DVR shortly!

  • CubbyDenCritic

    Can the Chicago Media just move on with the Bartman saga?……….the Cubs choked at the end in the 2003 playoffs……the Marlins were a better team……D. Lee ….Josh Beckett….Miguel Cabrera……all these guys stepped up……..are we going to see Tom Hanks play the Cubs GM and Samual L. Jackson as the Cubs manager in a movie in the near future?…….and who would really want to play the Bartman role?……..can Brad Pitt play “Kerry Wood”?…..I think so……..
    now if someone wants to make a film about the 2013 Cubs, they are plenty of “Walking Dead” Zombies extras always looking for work……..
    Big off-season ahead……how many times have we heard that?……how many times have those off season moves paid off?……..
    Frustrating……I know……..I think the current Cubs fans have one more “hope” left in them……really, who will Ricketts choose next if Team Theo fails?…..Cubs fans heard past Cubs regimes of telling them that next year is the one that pushes them over the edge…….There are plenty of good prospects on the horizon……but with every team, there needs to be a “Leader”………both on the field, in the dugout………..
    the next Cubs manager will have more “pressure” put on him than an other Cubs manager ever had before……….hopefully the suffering of the past 100 plus years comes to an end…….when it happens, this city will got “nuts”…….and if the Cubs don’t win by 2020, the fans will go out of their mind, stop going to the ballpark and Team Theo & the Ricketts will be run out of town…….that is what the local media does the best ……Ditka, Collins, Jackson, Lovie, Baylor, Baker, and Ozzie can all attest to that.

  • Ripsnorter1

    Pujol’s lawyer refuses to let him take a lie detector test over possible steroid use.

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