Seven players on the Cubs’ 40-man roster will be free agents at the conclusion of the World Series. RHP Trevor Cahill, RHP Tommy Hunter, RHP Jason Motte, RHP Fernando Rodney, OF Chris Denorfia, OF Austin Jackson and OF Dexter Fowler will hit the market.
Dexter Fowler played a big role in the Cubs success this past season. As Joe Maddon always told him, “You go, we go.” His performance has put him in line for a multi-year contract and he figures to do rather well for himself in free agency.
The Cubs would like to bring Fowler back, but reportedly for not more than a two-year contract. Fowler figures to receive at least a four-year deal after hitting .250/.346/.411 with 29 doubles, eight triples and 17 home runs for a .757 OPS. Fowler scored a career high 102 runs in large part to a second half in which he batted .272/.389/.463 with a .852 OPS. Fowler turns 30 in March and is one of two players (Andrew McCutchen) with 50 or more walks and 10 or more stolen bases in each of the last seven seasons.
The Cubs will make a qualifying offer to Dexter Fowler. If he accepts the one-year contract by the deadline (12th day after the conclusion of the World Series), the Cubs would pay him $15.8 million for the 2016 season. If Fowler declines and signs with another team, the Cubs will receive a compensatory draft pick. The Cubs can re-sign Fowler even if he turns down the qualifying offer.
Theo Epstein addressed the year Fowler had, what he meant to the team and the Cubs desire to bring him back during his end of season press conference.
Dexter Fowler had “an unbelievable year” and fit in “tremendously well in the organization.” The Cubs think very highly of Fowler both as a player and as a person. Fowler made a “wonderful impression” according to Epstein. The Cubs love having him around. He means a lot to the team on and off the field.
Fowler is a free agent and has earned the status. Epstein does not take that lightly.
“Players rarely have the ability to go out and see what their market is and what teams are interested in them,” Epstein said. “It’s not something that not everyone gets to that point, six years in, free agency. He’s earned it and we will see what the future holds.”
The Cubs are interested in sitting down at the appropriate time with Dexter Fowler and his agent, Casey Close, and see if there is a way to keep him as a Cub.
Theo Epstein is not sure what free agents the team could sign. A lot depends on what happens in center field and with Dexter Fowler.
The Cubs have internal options to fill center field if Fowler signs elsewhere, which is expected. The Cubs are believed to be focused on adding pitching and allocating most of the available dollars this winter to the pitching staff and not position players.
The Cubs have areas of the team they would like to address and to see improvement defensively in the outfield and holding runners. Offensively, the Cubs would like to make more contact, cut down on the strikeouts and do a better job of situational hitting.
“We have so many nice, versatile young position players that I don’t see a crying need to add any one position,” Epstein said. “At the same time there are skillsets we would like to add. There’s certain contributions that we would like to integrate into the mix if possible so that we can become a little bit more well-rounded as a team.”
“For example, I think we could generally improve our outfield defense a little bit. And that’s something that happens not just through the personnel that we may add but also through coaching and repetitions and emphasis in certain areas. Young players do get better defensively with work and we plan to work.”
“I think we can get better as a situational hitting team and as a contact hitting team and that is something that you can address again through player personnel, if the right player is out there,” Epstein said. “The right fit. And also through emphasis and coaching.”
Theo has already met with Jed Hoyer, Joe Maddon and the coaching staff about how situational hitting is “going to be a big emphasis in Spring Training.”
There are many ways the Cubs can improve for next season. While the front office may not be looking to fill a certain position from outside the organization, the Cubs know what elements they would like to add to the team to make it more well-rounded.
Epstein explained that once you have a pretty good team you approach the off-season in two ways. One is looking for areas to get better and for areas that require obvious improvement. The second is to try to anticipate everything that could go wrong that would get in the way of a team getting better the next year. And to “game plan for as many of those things as you can.”
“Try to create as much depth, as much redundancy, as much versatility as you possibly can so there’s not any one or two bad events that can sabotage your entire season.”
“We don’t go into 2016 assuming all of our players are going to stay healthy, assuming we are going to have healthy starting pitching,” Epstein said. “You almost have to go in assuming someone is going to go down. Assuming there is going to be a freak injury. Assuming someone is going to fade away.”
“It’s really hard to obtain but set the goal to have as much depth, as much versatility, as much redundancy as you possibly can so that it has to be a long list of things that go wrong to sabotage your season and keep you from getting back in to October.”
The Cubs are looking to improve depth of starting pitching and that is something they can “attack with a vengeance this off-season.” Epstein said that process had already started “with a lot of the work they have already put in for this off-season.”
“We need to be deep. We need to be redundant. And we need to get better but I love the foundation that we are working with.”
Theo Epstein would love to keep the position player group intact and add pitching without giving up any players. But he is not sure that is going to be possible given the nature of the Cubs situation and the market. Best case for the Cubs would be to retain all of the position-player depth and continue to develop and growing with it. Epstein is not sure if that can realistically happen.
“I would love to have our entire position group back. I think the competition is good. The depth is great. The redundancy is important. It’s a significant, competitive advantage to have solutions at the ready if something should go wrong, should you suffer an injury.”
“It’s a competitive advantage to be able to mix and match and throw out a lineup that is tailored for that night’s opposing starting pitcher,” Epstein said. “It’s a huge advantage. It also may not be possible. We have some other areas that we need to address and we may be forced with a situation where the right move is to take away some of that position player group in order to add impact pitching.”
Kris Bryant could see time in the outfield next season and Javier Baez could get exposed to the outfield. Baez likes playing center field. Bryant and Baez playing in the outfield next year depends on what the Cubs do in center field this winter.
“One thing you can take to the bank is that we feel like the more options we have the better and serves the team really well. Keeping versatility and interchangeable parts around, even with your best players, is hugely important.”
As for signing free agents and players wanting to play for the Cubs, Epstein does not think that will be an issue like it has been in the past.
“I think we’ve become a really attractive destination. Not just getting to the Final Four this year but it’s the atmosphere at Wrigley Field. It’s our fan base. It’s that we are still on this tremendous journey to try to win a World Series for the first time in what will be now 108 years. It’s Joe Maddon and the culture that he creates.”
“It’s our ownership and how they treat players like family,” Epstein said. “It’s our young players and veterans are willing to come here and be a part of this surge that we are having right now. It’s the new clubhouse that we are going to have. It’s the new media room. It’s so many different things I think that are in our favor as an organization right now.”
Epstein is not worried about the trade market or making deals with other teams. But he does think that managing success can be difficult in part because you have to manage expectations and you have to be careful you don’t have “an organizational arrogance that takes hold” or a “sense of entitlement” or a “sense of complacency.”
Epstein pointed out the Cubs have not done anything yet. They have not won a World Series. All they have done is get to October. The Cubs beat the Pirates and won a series against the Cardinals but fell short of the ultimate goal.
“There is so much we have to do to just maintain the level that we accomplished this year. Let alone improve upon it and then win the ultimate prize.”
“Nothing is promised in this game. Nothing is promised in life,” Epstein said. “Teams that think they have these sure fire five-year windows have often seen them slammed shut in front of them through bad luck or bad performance or bad decision making.”
“We don’t take anything for granted. We have to work our tails off to get back to the position where we have another shot at October. We are looking really forward to that.”
Reports from Theo Epstein’s End of Season Press Conference
- Cubs Invite Joe Maddon’s Entire Coaching Staff Back for Next Season
- Cubs Would Like to Add at Least One Quality Starting Pitcher
- Theo Epstein’s End of Season Press Conference was Chock-Full of Information
- Cubs Will Continue Playing Kyle Schwarber Behind the Plate and in the Outfield
- Cubs Plan to Approach Scott Boras about a Long-Term Extension for Jake Arrieta
- Cubs Thought Miguel Montero’s Season Was a Tale of Two Halves
- Arbitration Eligible Players Will Put a Pretty Big Dent in Cubs Available Payroll for 2016