Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are expecting a lot of activity this week, but not necessarily with the Cubs.
The front office has a list of areas they would like to address between now and Opening Night. Epstein and Hoyer would like to add veteran leadership to the bench, starting rotation and bullpen while trying to get more left handed. The Cubs are also looking for on-base bats, a veteran catcher and of course starting pitching.
Jed Hoyer recently said, “We have a list of guys that we like as free agents. A list of guys that we like in trade. I think we’ve been pretty clear in the areas of the team we want to improve. We’ve got to strikeout less. We’ve got to get on base more. We’ve got to get more left-handed and we need starting pitching. Those are really the key areas that we are trying to address.”
“I think we have that list of guys. There is no one domino, two dominoes, three dominoes that need to fall for us to start doing it.”
The Cubs are being aggressive in free agency and are working on ways to improve the roster. Theo Epstein addressed where the team stood on the free agent front with the beat writers before departing for San Diego.
“Free agency is important and you have to be aggressive if you hope to get something done in this current landscape. A lot of teams have money and good players are at a premium,” Epstein said. “There is more demand than there is supply for elite players there’s no doubt about that. You also have to maintain some sense of discipline and limits and long-term perspective.”
“If you go into free agency thinking you’re one player away and you need this one and you need any one player at all costs, you’re probably going to end up getting burned. You’re probably going to end up with an organization that is not as healthy as it can be years down the line.”
“That said, there are players that are important and there is a time to be very aggressive and a time to know what you want and do everything within reason to get it,” Epstein said. “You have to balance those interests. I think I said free agency is not for the faint of heart and it’s not both ways. You have to be prepared to be ultra-aggressive if you want to come away with what you are looking for and you also have to be prepared to fail two ways.”
“You have to be prepared to fail in that you have to be able to accept not landing the player because there are always other alternatives and you can’t go into any pursuit at all costs, throwing reason to the wind,” Epstein said. “And you also have to be prepared to fail in that sometimes when you do land a player and contracts don’t always work out.”
“The key in that respect is to build the organization up to a point where you can recover from any one player not performing and you have young players ready to step in. You have depth. You have redundancy and you have lots of cost-controlled assets that can help you recover from something like that.”
“I think we’ve done a nice job of building up the organization to a really healthy place where we can be aggressive and we are being aggressive and we will continue to be aggressive,” Epstein said. “But we are not going to enter into any one negotiation as if it’s do or die. The Cubs are in a really nice spot compared to where we were a few years ago.”
“I think we are going to continue to get healthier and healthier as an organization. If we are successful in one or two of the things we are trying to do this winter, we are going to be very competitive very soon.”
Theo Epstein is looking forward to the day the Cubs are the feared team in free agency. But he knows the Cubs are not in that place, yet.
“We’re not the Dodgers, and we’re not the Yankees. But there are still plenty of things we can do. We have a lot of resources at our disposal. We’re not going to complain about it. We’re a team with a healthy enough financial situation and a lot of young players who give up flexibility to be very impactful in the marketplace.”
Epstein is expecting the Winter Meetings to be the same as it’s been for many years where the talk will outweigh actual moves 50 to 1.
Adding one or possibly two starting pitchers this winter is one of the front office’s many goals. Even with the impact arms that could be available on the free agent market next off-season, the Cubs would like to begin the process of adding starting pitching from outside of the organization this winter.
The Cubs number one target is obviously Jon Lester and if the front office is able to sign Lester, it is believed the Cubs will turn to one of the available second-tier starters for the depth the team would like to begin Spring Training with on the pitching front.
The Cubs could turn to James Shields or Max Scherzer, as a recent report suggested, if Jon Lester signs elsewhere.
Two names to keep an eye on in the secondary starter market are Jason Hammel and Justin Masterson. Hammel was very good in a short-time with the Cubs last year and worked well with Chris Bosio. Hammel and the Cubs are believed to be interested in a reunion and Hammel would help give the Cubs the innings the rotation simply lacks right now. Hammel is reportedly using the contract Scott Feldman signed (three-years, $30 million) with the Astros last winter as his baseline/framework for his next contract.
Masterson would prefer to sign a one-year contract to show he is healthy and go back on the market again next winter. The Cubs are believed to be very interested in Masterson, even to the point the Sun-Times reported last month the Cubs were working on a deal with the right-hander.
Brandon McCarthy has also been linked to the Cubs by the mainstream media. The Yankees would like him back and based on his track record, McCarthy could be a bigger risk than the Cubs are willing to take on right now.
The Cubs could also go the trade route to add a starting pitcher, but despite reports, the front office does not appear ready to trade the young, impact talent it would take to acquire Cole Hamels from the Phillies or Jordan Zimmermann from the Nationals.
While the Cubs have said the team’s goal is to win the NL Central crown in 2015, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have also talked about a 15-month window, which is now closer to 12 months, to add impact starting pitching to the roster. The Cubs are not going to alter The Plan and sell-out to try to win in 2015.
A veteran reliever or two would deepen the bullpen and provide leadership for all the young arms, especially with Carlos Villanueva and Wesley Wright no longer on the roster.
Luke Gregerson is thought to be one of the late-inning free agent relievers on the Cubs list.
The young arms performed well in the second half and there is some depth behind Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez, Justin Grimm, Brian Schlitter and Blake Parker in Donn Roach and Armando Rivero, plus the power arms that finished the year at the Double-A level that project as relievers at the big league level.
The Cubs would like to add to the bullpen, but it’s not likely the front office will overspend on a veteran closer with the options already on the 40-man roster.
The Cubs are looking for a catcher and have been connected to Miguel Montero and free agent David Ross. The front office is prepared to begin the season with Welington Castillo as the team’s primary catcher but would like to pair him with a veteran that would not only help with leadership in the clubhouse but help Mike Borzello and Henry Blanco with Castillo’s development.
The Tribune mentioned the Astros’ Jason Castro as a possibility. The 27-year old is coming off a bad year at the plate (.222/.286/.366 with 21 doubles, two triples, 14 home runs) and is available. Castro is arbitration eligible and was paid $2.45 million last year. Castro has two more years of team control on his contract.
The Cubs have not been connected to any infielders by the mainstream media, but appear to be looking for a veteran outfielder. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have said they would like the team to get more left handed with bats that can get on-base. With Jorge Soler in the team’s plans for right field and Arismendy Alcantara possibly in center, the Cubs might have playing time for a veteran in left field with the way the roster is currently constructed.
Theo Epstein said the team is happy with the job Chris Coghlan did last year and he is in the Cubs’ plans for 2015. A platoon partner for Coghlan would seem to fit the team’s needs and that is where Jonny Gomes and Chris Denorfia might fit in. The Cubs have been connected to both veteran outfielders as well as Michael Morse.
Cubs Possible Trade Chips
Outside of the prospects the front office could use to add a top of the rotation-type arm, the Cubs have received calls about Luis Valbuena and would like to trade Edwin Jackson. While Valbuena has value, he may be worth more to the Cubs right now than he could net in a trade. Jackson would likely have to be included in a deal for an underperforming player with similar money left on his contract. Jackson is owed $22 million over the next two seasons.
Jim Bowden reported Justin Ruggiano and Mike Olt are on the block. Ruggiano was effective in his first year with the Cubs when he was healthy enough to play. Olt has big time power and showed signs of making more contact after a brief stint at Triple-A Iowa at the end of last season. Olt may fit better on a big league roster in a utility role on a winning team, especially if he can provide average defense in left and right field to go along with above-average defense at third and a solid back-up at first base.