If you’re even remotely interested things like the hot stove, the Winter Meetings, the trade deadline, the waiver trade deadline, the draft, GM moves, managerial hires (yeah, I could go for another three lines, but won’t), etc., then I’d hazard a guess that you’re familiar with MLB news and rumor monolith, MLB Trade Rumors. Started by Tim Dierkes in November 2005, MLBTR has become the preeminent clearinghouse for all things baseball, and a drool-inducing model of success for humble Mom ‘n Pop bloggers such as yours truly.
So, when I had the opportunity to interview Dierkes – a lifelong Cubs fan – I jumped. The guy knows MLB rumors as well as anyone, and his thoughts on the Chicago Cubs’ offseason plans, chances in 2012, and long-term future are as interesting and relevant as anyone’s. From the sound of things, Dierkes sees the Cubs having an active Winter, and remains as hopeful as any of us for 2012.
Concrete Cubs-related rumors (assuming that isn’t an oxymoron) have been relatively hard to come by so far this Winter, with the exception of yesterday’s relative rumor bonanza. Do you attribute it to a new front office still in information-gathering mode, a particularly tight-lipped front office, a lack of Chicago media connections to/sources with the new front office, or a genuine lack of activity on the part of the Cubs?
Dierkes: I view it as a combination of the second and third factors you mentioned. We can only guess how well-connected the Chicago media is in the new Cubs’ front office, but it has been my impression for a while now that the Chicago media does not necessarily treat scoops for the Cubs and Sox as their top priority (and that’s not a bad thing). I also do believe the front office is tight-lipped. Theo Epstein in particular has a reputation for not disclosing much information, so I imagine privately he’s the same way. I also think the holdovers from Jim Hendry’s regime are paranoid about having an information leak traced to them.
Loose lips sink ships, and all that. So, do you think the Cubs will seriously entertain offers for Matt Garza this Winter (beyond a mere “we’ll listen on anybody”)?
Dierkes: Yes, I think they will seriously entertain offers. I view this as similar to Jed Hoyer’s situation when he traded Adrian Gonzalez. He was realistic about his team’s immediate chances of contention, and even coming off a near-playoff run he received an offer he couldn’t turn down on his best player and pulled the trigger even though it made the team worse in 2011.
Does that mean trading Garza will necessarily make the Cubs worse in 2012? Is it even the right move?
Dierkes: Most Garza trade scenarios make the team worse in 2012, unless the Cubs are really clever. Not to cop out, but I can’t say whether trading him now is the right move until I see the offers.
Speaking of those offers, what kind of return can Cubs fans hope for if Garza is dealt?
Dierkes: I’d want a top 30 type of pitching prospect, another good young player or two, and perhaps someone I could plug into the rotation too.
Setting aside whether trading Garza makes the Cubs worse in 2012, which, as you said, is unknowable without first seeing what the return is, does trading Garza signal a white flag on the 2012 season for the Cubs?
Dierkes: I don’t think moving him signals a white flag necessarily. Completely punting the 2012 season seems highly unlikely, just because it’s the Cubs and they still have strong attendance relative to other teams. If you look at Hoyer after the Adrian trade, he spent over $20MM on guys like Orlando Hudson, Aaron Harang, Brad Hawpe, Chad Qualls, and Jason Bartlett. He also traded for Cameron Maybin. While that approach didn’t create a contender in 2011, that was his goal. The Cubs could make short-term moves like that on a larger scale, and I think we saw that with their interest in Grady Sizemore.
If the Cubs, then, do go out and actively pursue some big-money free agents, whom do you see them pursuing? Pujols? Fielder? Wilson? Buehrle? Darvish? Cespedes?
Dierkes: Of those six, I think Cespedes is both the most likely and the best fit. As for the others, I don’t mind a pursuit of them, but I think you have to make their 2012 seasons count and that could mean going all-in on free agency and getting two of them, kind of like Hendry in 2006-07. There’s a school of thought that Cubs have the need and money for Pujols, Fielder, or Darvish, and if they think one of them is special enough they might have to make a move for that reason.
Would locking down Cespedes be a good move for the Cubs?
Dierkes: With teams unable to go over slot in the draft or spend big in Latin America like before, Cespedes represents the rare somewhat young player in this new landscape who can be had just be flexing financial muscle. If the Cubs believe he’s really 26, and they think he’s a 20 home run center fielder or a 30 home run corner outfielder with decent defense within one year, $40-50MM over six to eight years is good value. With the 2012 team not looking great, the Cubs wouldn’t feel pressure to get Cespedes in the Majors right away, which would be good for his development.
I have to back up and ask about Pujols. The multiply-sourced rumors that the Cubs are pursuing Pujols and have reached out to his agent: genuine interest, or a controlled leak by the Cubs or Pujols’ agent, designed to up the money he’ll get from the Cardinals?
Dierkes: It seems possible that even if the Cubs don’t truly want to sign Pujols, they share a common goal with Dan Lozano in wanting to drive Pujols’ price as high as possible. That said, it’s not as if the Cardinals didn’t think the Cubs could ever get involved. I think at this stage the Cubs are doing their due diligence on Pujols.
One of the primary reasons Cubs fans were exuberant in response to Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod coming on board was the belief that these guys know how to build an organization the right way. The “right way,” in this instance, being through wise and extensive draft spending, as well as international spending (something the Cubs had already been building out in recent years). With the new CBA drastically limiting those avenues, are the Cubs screwed? Is the only alternative shifting those dollars to the Major League payroll?
Dierkes: I wouldn’t say they’re screwed. The new CBA does take away the advantage teams were getting by putting extra money into the draft and Latin America, and the Cubs probably would have done that, so it will clearly be more difficult. Still, the Cubs can make better draft choices than their predecessors, and they can move Garza, Soto, and Marshall for cheaper, younger players. The Cubs will have to be more creative given the new CBA, but I’m sure the new front office has ideas to meet the challenge.
Any thoughts on a few surprise free agency or trade candidates for the Cubs? Perhaps lesser-tier players who’ve not yet been publicly connected to the Cubs? I saw that you guessed in the MLBTR free agent prediction contest that the Cubs might sign outfielder David DeJesus and pitcher Joel Pineiro. Sticking by those predictions? How about some other names.
Dierkes: DeJesus and Pineiro were less players I specifically expect the Cubs to get and more an idea of the type of players I think they will pursue. Short-term commitments and guys who will do one or two-years deals. If the Cubs sign five of these players and somehow four hit, maybe they’re a trade deadline acquisition away from contention. They have to at least give themselves that opportunity. Erik Bedard is another pitcher who could work. There aren’t a ton of these upside plays out there though.
As a Cubs fan, what’s your preference: tear down and rebuild (sell off all valuable pieces for prospects, save money, strike in 2013 and/or beyond), keep the valuable pieces and add via trade and free agency for a run in 2012, or a hybrid approach (as advocated (at least publicly) by the Cubs’ front office)?
Dierkes: I prefer a run in 2012. I don’t have the patience for a non-contending or middling Cubs team. The Red Sox, Yankees, and Phillies would never have a consolidation year, even if their big league teams were questionable heading into the offseason. If there are prospects the Cubs feel are redundant, move them for Major League talent. Throw around big free agent bucks if you truly feel good about the players’ futures. The Cubs have a lot of holes but also a lot of money, and I don’t expect the new front office to make a Soriano-like error even if they spend big.
When you put it that way, it’s hard to argue. Thanks again, Tim – both for the interview, and for the work that you do.
Dierkes: Thank you!