Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein has been a busy man over the past 48 hours, and, after pulling off the double trick of signing Ben Zobrist and trading Starlin Castro, he spoke to the media about those moves and the offseason as a whole. You can read up on his comments here, here, here, here, and here, among other places.
Below are some of the things Epstein discussed, together with my thoughts:
- Epstein felt that the “price of poker” was very high for starting pitching in both the free agent and trade market. Specifically, he mentions that the years and dollars for starters that came with a “significant amount of risk” went beyond their comfort zone. With David Price and Zack Greinke getting over $200 million each and Shelby Miller traded for an insanely huge haul, it’s not hard to see where Epstein was coming from. All of that is to say that the reasonable deals the Cubs have made for starting pitching so far – John Lackey, Trevor Cahill, Adam Warren – were probably better for the team at this time.
- I like the Lackey and Warren moves, in particular, because they represented a pretty clear pivot from what the plan probably was coming into the offseason. It can get easy to lose focus of the bigger picture when you start narrowing in on one particular target (see the Diamondbacks on Greinke AND Miller) and that could lead to stretching beyond what is strategically sound. And, all of that goes without saying that both Lackey and Warren can be (relatively) hugely valuable pieces to the Cubs over the next couple of years, themselves.
- Epstein went on to say that it doesn’t take household names to have an effective pitching staff: “If you have a staff where there are no negative contributors, no replacement-level pitchers, but all solid, contributing pitchers who throw strikes and can follow a game plan and miss bats and be effective, that in and of itself can make you one of the best pitching staffs. I like to think if everyone pitches up to their potential next year we’re getting close to that ideal.”
- As we know, Epstein and Jed Hoyer have had a great deal of success piecing together pitching staffs in the past using anything but the usual suspects. This rotation is grounded by Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, and can be very effective from there.
- Epstein has also reiterated what we’ve generally accepted to be true about the Ben Zobrist signing/Starlin Castro trade coordination: one could not have been made without the other. While I’m sure that the Cubs could have logistically fit both players in the payroll (indeed, if you have any hopes for Heyward you better believe that’s true – and thankfully Jed Hoyer today indicated both could have fit) that would have represented a pretty clear misuse of resources. Throw in the positional issue, and, as Epstein said, no trade meant no signing, and vice versa.
- Also, I think it’s fair to say the Cubs are a good deal better for 2016, due to the addition of Zobrist, because (for just one of many reasons) he doesn’t have to outhit Castro to provide a ton of value. “If you look at [Zobrist’s] overall contribution on the field – his offense, his defense, his baserunning – he’s been one of the most valuable players in the game. He’s incredibly versatile. He’s exactly the type of offensive player we’re looking for who grinds every pitch, works his at-bat, makes a ton of contact, draws his walk, gets on base and is versatile and can play all over the field.”
- What’s felt like fait accompli over the last year and half or so, has finally come true. For oh-so-many reasons Zobrist makes sense for this team. His contact rate, switch hitting, versatility and overall offensive production are all key components, but there is a good deal more to it than that. The addition of Zobrist provides the Cubs a true leadoff option, potentially widening the scope of center fielders they can now target. Absent a move for Zobrist, a glove-first center fielder would have been a tougher fit. The addition of Zobrist also will allow Maddon to optimize the use of Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez, all of whom can be rotated in and out for Zobrist based on the matchup. Then there’s the potential for extra rest for other players (including Zobrist).
- Epstein isn’t cold-hearted, though, and he recognizes the sentimental importance of Castro’s separation from the Cubs, calling it bittersweet and a little sad.
- But Zobrist, Castro and Lackey do not appear to be the end of the offseason. Epstein has also recently said what I’m sure most of us were hoping to hear: “We’d welcome an impact move if it’s out there …. All the moves we have been pursuing previously are still potentially alive for us.” Obviously, as a Cub fan that is exciting to hear, because every team in baseball can stand to improve one way or another. But the desire to improve was never unknown. Instead, it was the capability to improve that was the more legitimate question. Much of that capability, Epstein credits to the business side, and ownership, creatively making “more options open to use than maybe we imagined when the season ended.”
- Epstein indicated that the Cubs continue to listen in deals, and they may still have a surplus on the positional side from which they could make a move. But he noted that the Cubs are now in a position not to have to act out of need or desperation, and they can sit back and be selective.
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