This off-season the front office would like to begin adding players from outside of the organization to the existing young roster in order to help take the Cubs to the next level. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have stated publicly the Cubs will not alter The Plan and sellout to win in 2015, but it is time for the team to focus on winning games while continuing the development of young players at the big league level.
From the outside looking in, the glaring need is starting pitching and the front office has plans to address the lack of impact, top of the rotation-type starters. Ideally the Cubs would like to add two starters this off-season, but Epstein and Hoyer do not feel the additions have to be made this winter. The front office has given a 15-month timeframe in which to reach its goal.
“It starts with starting pitching; an impact starting pitcher would be great,” Epstein said. “We would love for it to happen this winter but if it doesn’t then the next trade deadline. If it doesn’t then next year’s free agent class is really deep, but by all means I would love for it to happen now if we can find a rational deal out there.”
“And then another starting pitcher, I think, why not sign two? If you are here to compete which means you need depth, you need impact, you need back-up plans, you need redundancy. I think we have room for two starting pitchers. In an ideal off-season we will sign two starting pitchers.”
A lot of the focus to this point has been on the Cubs signing soon-to-be free Jon Lester. The former Red Sox southpaw checks all of the boxes for the front office, plus Lester would only cost the Cubs money and a long-term commitment. The front office also has a comfort zone with Lester and has first-hand knowledge of the leadership he could provide in the clubhouse.
The Cubs have also been connected to James Shields, who has a very good reputation with the way he works with younger players. Shields should not be as expensive in terms of his contract, but the Royals are expected to do everything they can to re-sign him which will include making a qualifying offer. If Kansas City makes the offer and once he rejects it, Shields would be tied to draft pick compensation. And if the Cubs were to sign him the team would forfeit its second round pick in next year’s draft along with the allotted slot money.
The front office could decide to trade some of the young talent in the system for a starter like Cole Hamels, who is believed to still be of interest to the Cubs. Hamels contract has $96 million guaranteed money left on it over the next four seasons.
“Make no mistake, we have room for another impact starting pitcher, or two, in our rotation and that’s a priority. That’s our job to go find those guys. As I said, we don’t have them coming in our system, maybe a couple of really interesting guys that could take a step forward, but they are a few years away,” Epstein said. “Over the next 15 months, hopefully over the next two-three months, we will find a way to acquire impact starting pitching, then it gets really interesting.”
“You add an impact, top of the rotation-type starter to [Jake] Arrieta, [Kyle] Hendricks, [Travis] Wood and then you sign another starter, it starts to look really nice on paper.”
Jason Hammel and Justin Masterson are two of the second-tier free agent starters that have already been linked rather heavily to the Cubs by the mainstream media. But before he signed with the Pirates two years ago, the Cubs were believed to have a lot of interest in Francisco Liriano. And soon-to-be free agent Brandon McCarthy was linked to the Cubs as well before front office decided to sign the two Scotts, Feldman and Baker.
The Cubs have starting pitching options on the 40-man roster behind Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Travis Wood in Felix Doubront, Jacob Turner, Edwin Jackson, Dallas Beeler, Eric Jokisch, Dan Straily, James McDonald and Tsuyoshi Wada, if the front office picks up Wada’s $5 million option.
The front office realizes the team currently lacks veteran leadership a young roster requires to learn how to win games at the big league level while dealing with the rigors of a 162-game schedule. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro embraced the leadership roles last year they were thrust into, but the front office knows it must find veterans that provide a specific skillset and are willing to work with young players.
“We need to add on-base skills and contact abilities and veteran production to the offense. Maybe we pick one spot to really upgrade while still providing opportunities for young players,” Epstein said. “And then overhaul the bench with veterans who get it and who can be professional, good role models for guys and who also know how to prepare themselves to come in and contribute at some point in the game off the bench. Those are some of the ways for us to get better.”
During the season, catcher was a spot the Cubs were believed to be looking to upgrade this winter as rumors of Russell Martin being an option surfaced. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are on record stating how pleased they were with the job Welington Castillo did handling the staff despite the fact John Baker was behind the plate when pitchers made their big league debut or first starts with the Cubs. Castillo remains a question mark moving forward based on inconsistent play, offensively and defensively, and his inability to stay off the disabled list throughout his professional career.
If the Cubs decide to begin next year with Castillo as the team’s everyday catcher, signing a veteran back-up, that could provide more offense than John Baker, would seem to be in order.
Theo Epstein has spoken highly of Chris Coghlan and Luis Valbuena several times since the end of the season. Both players appear to be in the Cubs plans for next year, but likely in back-up roles off the bench. Coghlan and Valbuena remain under team control and are arbitration eligible for next season.
Free-agent-to-be Jonny Gomes has been mentioned as a possible option for veteran leadership off the bench, but Gomes would offer little in terms of position flexibility. Justin Ruggiano is arbitration eligible, produced at the plate when he was able to play and would give Rick Renteria more options late in games than Gomes. With at least half of the projected everyday lineup, before the addition of Kris Bryant in late April, hitting from the right side, left handed bats on the bench would appear to be a priority and with players that can at least provide average defense at multiple positions.
While addressing the type of veterans the front office is looking to add and the willingness they must have to work with young players, Epstein indicated the front office has a couple of guys in mind that could be matches for Cubs.
“There are a few guys out there like that,” Epstein said. “There are a couple that we have our eye on. If we have a successful off-season we will land at least one of those type players if not more.”