As the calendar year came to an end, rumors continued to point to the Cubs talking to several teams as the front office explored ways to acquire pitching, both for the rotation and bullpen. The Cubs have added depth to the roster this winter but many within the game do not think Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are done making changes to the team.
Whether the Cubs are able to acquire a starting pitcher or arms for the bullpen or before Spring Training begins is obviously dependent on a lot of factors. Plus, the front office is happy with the moves they’ve made this off-season and are more than willing to start Spring Training with the players currently on the 40-man roster. Once the spring games begin, the front office can adjust the roster accordingly while the team prepares for the season.
The front office has said publicly the plan, for now, is to start the season with an outfield of Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Jorge Soler. An outfield that Epstein thinks could be one of the best in the game offensively.
Theo Epstein said a couple of weeks ago he loves Soler’s future and he thinks his bat “could be as good as just about anyone’s in the game, and from a power standpoint especially.” The Cubs believe in him and are heavily invested in Jorge Soler.
While the conversations continue with teams about their available pitchers, the Cubs are still being linked to centerfielders. Reports have suggested that if the Cubs were to trade for a controllable starting pitcher it would likely cost a package of players that would include either Jorge Soler or Javier Baez. If Soler is dealt, Jason Heyward would be able to play his natural position in right field and the Cubs would need someone to man center and possibly hit at the top of the lineup.
Having Heyward play right field and adding a natural centerfielder would also address another area the front office set out to improve this winter, shore up the defense in the outfield. Epstein said at the time, the Cubs would be willing to go with more of a defensive-oriented player in center if he provided the upgrade the front office was hoping to find.
At the beginning of the off-season it was believed the Cubs were looking for a short-term option in center field to keep from blocking players in the system, namely Albert Almora. The Cubs were linked heavily to corner outfielders at the time before signing the best defensive right fielder in the game. Heyward’s versatility allows the Cubs to move him to center field and at the same time not diminish Jorge Soler’s value. If Soler is traded, however, the Cubs will have to add an everyday centerfielder to the roster.
The Cubs have not closed the door on Dexter Fowler returning next season but it is believed the front office is not interested in re-signing Fowler to the four-year contract he is seeking in free agency. Fowler is viewed as an option only if Soler is moved but possibly on no more than a two-year deal.
The Cubs have been connected to three other free agent outfielders: Denard Span, Gerardo Parra and Austin Jackson.
Denard Span has been on the Cubs’ radar for a while. The front office reportedly talked to the Nationals about trading for him last off-season. Mike Rizzo decided to keep him and the Cubs made a deal for Fowler. There are a lot of question marks surrounding Span, besides the fact his agent, Scott Boras, is looking for a two- to three-year deal for Span despite the fact he is coming off an injury plagued year in which his season ended with hip surgery in August.
Gerardo Parra is garnering a lot of attention right now, at least according to multiple outlets. Parra is viewed as a very good defensive outfielder, especially in left and right, and he is not attached to draft pick compensation. Parra could be looking at a three- to four-year deal once the top tier free agent outfielders sign and if that is the case he would not be a fit with the Cubs.
Austin Jackson might be an option for the Cubs even if Soler is not traded. The Cubs could be looking for a defensive outfielder beyond Matt Szczur. As the roster is currently constructed, the Cubs do not have a defensive replacement late in games for Kyle Schwarber or Jorge Soler other than Szczur. Jackson would give Maddon options in all three outfield spots, plus the flexibility to move Heyward to right after the seventh inning. Jackson remains unsigned and did a good job for the Cubs in a back-up role after he was acquired from the Mariners late last season.
Two other fourth or fifth outfielders that could be in the mix for the Cubs include free agents Will Venable and Chris Denorfia.
On the trade front, Ender Inciarte has been heavily linked to the Cubs. Reports have indicated the Cubs tried to acquire Inciarte from Arizona before he was included in the Shelby Miller deal and sent to Atlanta. The Braves have placed a rather hefty price tag on him and are not looking to trade Inciarte.
Two other names that have popped up are Jake Marisnick and Charlie Blackmon. Marisnick had a rough year offensively for the Astros (.236/.281/.383) but would fit the defensive-first player that Epstein described early in the off-season.
Reports suggested last winter the Cubs were very interested in trading for Charlie Blackmon right before the deal was made with the Astros for Dexter Fowler. Blackmon is regarded as a very good defensive outfielder. Blackmon’s splits lean heavily toward a player that has benefited from spending half the season hitting in Coors Field. Blackmon has three years of control left on his contract and turns 30 in July, but he would give Maddon another option to bat at the top of his lineup.
Brett Gardner and Carlos Gomez are two other outfielders the Cubs have been linked to at various times this off-season. The Cubs reportedly asked the Yankees about Gardner in the conversations about Starlin Castro. The Yankees are looking for a starting pitcher for Gardner and do not match-up with the Cubs on a trade for the veteran outfielder. The Gomez rumors went away as quickly as they popped up during the Winter Meetings.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are always exploring ways to improve the team. Considering the additions the front office made to the roster this off-season have not backed them into a corner it will be interesting to see how the rest of the winter plays out.