Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein address the media yesterday, discussing a wide range of topics. If you’d like to check out his full thoughts, you can see them here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example.
The topics of conversation, together with my thoughts/reactions/analysis/etc. …
- On chasing big name free agents this offseason: “I don’t think we’re going to get to where we need to be through free agency for the short term, honestly. Given the needs that we have and where we are and the likely price tags on the market, I don’t think we’ll have the ability to add multiple impact pieces in free agency.” As usual, the quote is a parser’s dream. When Epstein says the Cubs can’t get to “where we need to be” by way of free agent signings in “the short term,” is he saying he doesn’t project the Cubs could turn in a playoff contender in 2014, even if they went hog wild in spending this offseason? Surely he can’t be, because the Cubs could absolutely build a paper playoff team if they were willing to drop hundreds of millions of dollars. Instead, I think the latter part of his quote informs the first sentence. Given this particular upcoming market, and the state of the Cubs’ rebuild, going nuts in free agency in order to build a “winner” in 2014 isn’t going to get the Cubs to where they need to be – i.e., with a team that annually has a chance to make the playoffs over a ten year stretch.
- On the need to improve the team’s on-base percentage, Epstein essentially said that he’d like to see the Cubs leading the league in that stat, and he wants it to be a hallmark of the organization. He indicated that the Cubs will look for it in free agency, but, for financial reasons, they’re not in a position to be able to go out and just buy as much on-base percentage as they want. Unnervingly, Epstein noted that some of the younger, impact players working their way up through the system are not prototypical on-base guys, and they could stand to have a veteran showing them how to grind out at bats. It feels like the angle to these kinds of questions is some variation of, “So, are you going to sign Shin-Soo Choo or not?” Reading over the accounts of Epstein’s responses, I get the sense that the Cubs aren’t ruling it out; but they recognize that they are in a financial situation where they can’t have confidence that, if they want Choo, they can get him no matter what. As I’ve always said about Choo, or any other bigger name free agent this offseason, it depends a great deal on how the market develops.
- At the same time, you have to take all of this not-ready-to-spend stuff with a grain of salt. The Cubs weren’t ready to spend in 2013, either, and yet they added Edwin Jackson (narrowly missing on Anibal Sanchez), Carlos Villanueva, Scott Feldman, Scott Baker, Kyuji Fujikawa, and Nate Schierholtz through free agency. I take Epstein at his word, as I always have, that the Cubs won’t be huge spenders this Winter, half because it doesn’t make sense to be (either because the players aren’t worth the required investment or because they won’t be the difference between losing and winning), and half because the money isn’t there yet. It sucks that the baseball operations department doesn’t have an unlimited supply of cash to use however they want, but we’ve known that was the case for a while now. That doesn’t mean there won’t be acquisitions. And, if the Cubs do pursue Masahiro Tanaka and/or Shin-Soo Choo, what exactly are we talking about here? The Cubs were unable or unwilling to pursue … Robinson Cano? Jacoby Ellsbury? There aren’t many free agents that are “bigger” than Tanaka or Choo, so it’s important to remember that the kinds of players Epstein could be saying the Cubs must eschew this offseason might be the kinds of big money free agents they’d want to eschew anyway. I guess what I’m saying: even if you accept that the Cubs don’t plan to be competitive in 2014, other than Choo or Tanaka, I’m not sure I see any big name “you have to sign them when they’re available” candidates.
- On the (failed?) attempt to rework Starlin Castro’s plate approach: “We made an effort to introduce [Castro] to the concept of getting a pitch he can really drive, because in the long run, that can benefit him. But if that can’t be accomplished without him being himself as a hitter, you have to let time play its course, and he’ll naturally evolve that way.” Epstein suggested that, long-term, Castro will be better for having gone through this experience – not just the struggling and overcoming part, but the actual plate approach part. Even if it didn’t “take,” he’s still likely to come out of this a more selective hitter, who waits for pitches he can drive.
- Epstein is pleased that Anthony Rizzo is among the league leaders in walks and extra-base hits, but the average being so low is a bit puzzling. (I take that to be his public thoughts; Rizzo’s got an 11.5% walk rate, a .188 ISO, and a .249 BABIP – in those numbers, alone, there are reasons to believe he’s going to be fine.)
- On evaluation Dale Sveum this year, Epstein used a whole lot of words, but didn’t say much. Epstein wouldn’t commit to Sveum returning in 2014 (Sveum is under contract for 2014), but only because there is an evaluation process going on right now, which happens every year.
- Epstein reiterated that the Wrigley Field renovation (at least not any revenue-generating portions) is not expected to get underway this offseason. Very disappointing.
- Epstein said that the plan is for Javier Baez to open 2014 as the starting shortstop at AAA Iowa. He might get some looks at second base and third base this offseason, but there is no plan to move him off of shortstop until he’s absolutely knocking down the door of the big leagues, and still stuck behind a healthy/productive Starlin Castro.