With Jason Heyward in the fold, Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein was in the spotlight a bit this week – or at least catching a corner of the spotlight – which means he had a fair bit to discuss. You can read up on his remarks here at ESPN and here at CSN, and he also did a radio interview on WEEI in Boston.
Among Epstein’s thoughts, together with my own …
- Epstein indicated on WEEI that the Cubs’ interest in David Price was legitimate, and he said all the complimentary things you’d expect, but they had to draw the line somewhere financially, when considering the risk of any pitcher. That line wound up being some $50 million shy of what Price ultimately got from the Red Sox. You don’t have to bust out the calculator to know, then, that the Cubs were willing to offer Jason Heyward a greater guarantee than Price. We’ll never know the structure the Cubs were offering Price, and there’s also the matter of Heyward very likely opting out after three years of his current deal, but it’s still notable. Price has long been thought of as the more impactful player, and, maybe in the short-term he is. But when you factor in the age difference (four years), and the positional player versus pitcher dynamic, Heyward does seem like the better financial risk.
- Speaking of which, getting John Lackey for just two years sounds like it was far more palatable to Epstein’s risk appetite than a longer contract for a younger pitcher. Lost in the shuffle of the Cubs’ other moves a bit, it’s important to remember that, right now, Lackey is the Cubs’ big pitching addition. And, as Epstein said, this is a guy who has simply been flat-out good for three straight post-Tommy John seasons, even as he heads into his late-30s. The stuff is still good and adaptable, the velocity is good, and the commitment is conservative. Even on the other side of the exciting Heyward signing, Ben Zobrist signing, and Starlin Castro/Adam Warren trade, I remain thoroughly impressed and pleased by the Lackey signing. The Cubs needed a quality middle-of-the-rotation arm this offseason at a bare minimum, and they got their guy early on a reasonable deal.
- Getting Heyward when they did was at least partly about the fact that some of the other big market clubs were not going to be spending aggressively on a position player this offseason (Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox), and Epstein suggested that won’t be the case the next time a rare 26-year-old free agent comes around. It was important, then, to get it done now. That’s especially true, I’d add, when you consider that the Cubs will have an especially strong window of contention in the next two years, while Jake Arrieta is under team control, and while Jon Lester is still relatively young.
- Although the Cubs have committed a lot this offseason already, Epstein pointed out that it’s mostly money – which is to say, the Cubs still have quite a bit of prospect/young player currency with which they could part if they wanted another upgrade. But, like Jed Hoyer, Epstein isn’t going to say there’s anything else the Cubs really have to do right now.
- The Cubs anticipate right now that Jason Heyward will be their center fielder in 2016. Obviously there’s a lot of play with those words, because things can change, but that’s the expectation unless something dramatic happens elsewhere in the outfield.
- Epstein implied, as many have suspected, that the Cubs have been especially aggressive this offseason because next year’s free agent class is so much thinner than this year. We’ve said it before: you can sign guys only when they’re actually available.
- It sounds from Epstein like the Cubs were pleased to be able to get the Lackey deal and the Warren trade done before it became clear just how expensive pitching was going to be in free agency and in trade. I suspect that’s something they were anticipating, and, while they had trade talk irons in the fire to try and acquire an impact, cost-controlled, younger starter, the Cubs weren’t going to be left holding the bag if they couldn’t pull it off. So, they got Lackey and Warren, they re-signed Trevor Cahill, and they’re solidly covered right now if they don’t make another addition. I suspect those conversations will continue, though I also believe the Cubs aren’t going to pay a Shelby-Miller-level return for a cost-controlled starter just because that’s what the Diamondbacks were willing to do.