Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein addressed some of the bigger picture items yesterday as the Cubs opened up Spring Training on the eve of a season where that big picture is pretty much all fans have on which to hang their hat.
- Epstein confirmed that this offseason, unlike the two offseasons prior, the baseball operations department did not spend all of the money allocated to it. Although he did not say so explicitly, the implication there is that money was held back for Masahiro Tanaka all offseason long. Having missed on Tanaka, there’s money available to be spent – but that doesn’t mean the Cubs are going to spend it. “This is the first winter where we ended up keeping some [money] in reserve to be used on players [that are] hopefully prime age, impact-type players down the road,” Epstein explained. “It gives us a bit of a leg-up as we look toward next Winter or an in-season move that might make the present and the future better …. Rather than just spend the money to spend it, if we can book that and have it available to us to sign that international free agent who comes along in the Summer, or to acquire a player in a trade who carries a significant salary but fits for the long term, or to just start out next offseason knowing we can be a little more aggressive on the guys we really want early because the money will be available to us, that made more sense than spending the money now just to spend it.”
- Obviously everyone wants the Cubs to have hundreds of millions of dollars available to spend at any moment on any player. But, given that financial freedom is not the reality right now, I’d much, much rather the front office hold some money in abeyance for next offseason than spend it on short-term BS that isn’t going to change the ultimate result in 2014. That money wouldn’t make much of a difference in 2014, but it could make a huge difference in 2015. And, to put it plainly, we will all remember these comments next offseason.
- Naturally, then, Epstein remains committed to The Plan, explaining that he sees the Cubs still moving in the right direction, even as outside evaluators dump on the current team. “I think there is a real dichotomy in the way the organization is perceived from the outside and how we look at it internally,” Epstein said. “There is a tremendous amount of talent in this organization. The prospects we have are getting a lot of attention, and they are moving their way up the ladder. The organizational depth, for instance, in the bullpen … there is no comparison to the quality arms that are in camp now than where we were two years ago. Our coaches and scouts, I believe, are impact and we believe we are on the verge of something special.” You can file that into the very-nice-to-hear-and-the-Cubs-probably-really-do-believe-it-internally-but-it’s-little-comfort-when-staring-down-yet-another-crappy-year department. The Plan, The Plan, The Plan. It takes time and patience. That sounds sarcastic, but I mean it.
- Epstein discussed the draft just a little bit, saying that the focus will once again be pitching. That doesn’t mean the Cubs will take a pitcher with the number four overall pick – the better odds still tend to fall with position players at the top – but they need more and more arms. When paired with an international focus that necessarily skews positional-heavy (it can be very hard to accurately project 16-year-old arms in the Dominican Republic, for example), it makes sense to keep your draft pitcher-heavy, especially in the upper rounds (though maybe not always first round).