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theo epstein press conference featureChicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein spoke on a wide range of topics yesterday, all of which are worth a little attention. You can read his comments here, here, here, here, and here, among other places. I’ll give you a slice here, but if you want it all, you should do some reading.

Epstein’s comments and relevant thoughts/reactions/etc. …

  • Moves could still happen before the Trade Deadline, but only if the Cubs feel like they’re getting back some value. Epstein cautioned that things like continuity and leadership matter when making these decisions, and implied that they could trump the value of a trade, particularly for complementary-type players. In other words – I take it – sometimes it’s more valuable to the organization to hold onto a good clubhouse guy than to get a very small return. I suspect we saw a fair bit of that last year at the deadline, and we could see it again this year. But the bar is lower when the guy is an impending free agent, and when the possible financial savings are factored in as well.
  • Jorge Soler is “on a mission,” having told the Cubs that he was going to show them something when he came off the DL. He’s done that in spades, and the Cubs felt like pitchers simply stopped challenging him at AA, and it was time to move up. Epstein reiterated that a number of scouts had the wrong idea about Soler because of the Arizona Fall League, where Soler had been instructed by the Cubs to take it easy on his still-healing leg (stress fracture) – those scouts saw Soler jogging on the bases, and walking out to the outfield, and misinterpreted that as a make-up issue. It wasn’t. Although Epstein wouldn’t confirm Soler could be called up in September, he did concede that being on the 40-man roster (which Soler is) can make things a little easier. Speaking of the importance of the 40-man roster and promotion decisions …
  • Some quotes via Sahadev Sharma on the 40-man roster and the offseason, because it’s a topic we frequently raise here, and it’s nice to see Epstein putting it to words: “If a player is already on the 40 or has to be added to the roster this winter to be protected from the Rule 5 draft, it just makes it a lot easier to call him up than if you have to prematurely add a player to the 40-man just for September. Sometimes that makes roster management in the winter very, very difficult …. Because of the 40-man issues, you have to factor in what a player might get out of a call-up versus what it means for the organization as a whole not being able to add a player in the winter because of 40-man issues.” Many times I’ve pointed out the difficulty in gobbling up a 40-man spot all Winter by calling someone up in September for a few weeks of action, but I’ve never actually heard an executive say it. Instead, it was just one of those things I expected to be true, because you could see every single offseason how tricky managing the 40-man becomes in November/December/January, between free agent signings, trades, and the Rule 5 Draft. Those spots are precious, and if you can possibly wait to add a guy until April or May, it might be worth waiting for that reason, alone (unless a player’s development absolutely commands otherwise). Good to hear Epstein laying it out, if for no other reason than I now feel justified for having hung my hat on it so many times before.
  • The Cubs worked with Albert Almora on focusing on pitches he could drive, rather than just hitting everything because he could. It was a struggle and an adjustment process – and it doesn’t always lead to walks – but Almora really started to drive the ball in the last month. The promotion to AA is aggressive, but the Cubs feel like Almora is a guy who is ready for that challenge, and who plays up to the level of his competition. My take? It could be a tough month for Almora, but it’s all in the name of development. Almora’s contact skills are incredible, but they can work against him – rather than waiting for a drivable pitch, he can hit just about anything (which can result in weak contact). He’d made the adjustment at High-A, and now it’s time to work on it against even better pitchers. At first, that might be a struggle. But then he can head into the offseason with a clear idea of what’s ahead, and I could see a huge year for him at AA next year.
  • Speaking on prospects, generally, Epstein is happy that outsiders view the Cubs’ system as strong, because it’s a credit to the organization’s scouting and player development. But he’s not looking for any accolades about where the Cubs’ farm system is ranked, because, in his words, the Cubs haven’t actually done anything yet. They are merely in a good position to do some things, which is totally correct. Epstein once again mentioned the two currencies of baseball – impactful young players and money – and said he hopes the Cubs will now have them. The Cubs are very likely to have the young, impact talent (they’ve still got to prove it in the bigs or be converted as trade assets), and will have a lot of money to spend this offseason if they want, even without a meaningful increase in payroll.
  • (Epstein also spoke about the Competitive Balance Lottery, but I’ll be writing on that separately later.)

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