As the calendar turns to July, the Chicago Cubs find themselves at an exciting turning point of the season.
Rumors abound about the bullpen, the streaks have been up and down, and there are just thirty days to go until the trade deadline.
In a series of interviews at the Chicago Tribune (Mark Gonzales), CSN Chicago (Patrick Mooney) and ESPN Chicago (Jesse Rogers), Cubs President of Baseball Operations addressed a number of these topics and more. See the highlights of those conversations below, alongside some thoughts of my own.
- Echoing Jed Hoyer’s comments on the bullpen earlier this week, Theo Epstein notes that there is still very real value in first exhausting the internal options they’ve brought aboard (particularly the guys working their way back from injuries) – this is similar to what Brett discussed in the Bullets this morning. Before they make a move on the trade market, then, the Cubs are going to make sure that they know if and what they need. That said, I wouldn’t worry if you’re hoping for an external addition. “At the same time,” Epstein said, “if we have a good opportunity now, we wouldn’t hesitate because it’s a market that’s gong to be a lot of competition in the market place late.” Epstein has shown his willingness to pull the trigger early in the past (the big Addison Russell/Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade happened on July 4), so I would be prepared for something to happen at any time.
- That said – even in the wake of the latest bullpen faltering – Epstein won’t panic and surrender a primo player like Kyle Schwarber just to acquire an impact arm. Although both Brett and I believe that the truly top tier relievers are more valuable than some others believe, I don’t think trading Kyle Schwarber and his 5-6 years of cost control for one is an effective use of his value. Epstein agrees: “I’m looking forward to Kyle Schwarber coming back and hitting a very big home run in a Cubs uniform sometime very early next season.” If that means the Yankees are walking away from any Andrew Miller trade, so be it.
- Okay, so if he won’t do Schwarber for Miller, though, what will Epstein do? Is anything brewing? Well, yes, actually. Kinda. According to Epstein, the Cubs have begun initial discussions with a handful of teams, to see who might be available and who might be a good match later in the month. Even though nothing is imminent, he seems confident in his ability to get something done if it comes to that. But again, patience is the name of the game, and internal options will have to be a part of that process.
- “It’s pretty rare that you rebuild a bullpen midseason through big-ticket items,” Epstein said, adding that last season’s model is far more typical and sustainable approach. Of course not every option will work out, but if you have a plan and the patience to cycle through a bunch of guys (as the Cubs appear to be doing now), you’ll often get rewarded in the end.
- Epstein then added an interesting thought that, if you’re thinking/building a bullpen for the postseason, the thought process is entirely different. In the playoffs, you’re not looking for a solid 7-8 pitchers. Instead, you’re looking for the 3-4 guys you can lean on heavily in the biggest situations. As of now, the Cubs have two guys of this calibre, in my opinion – Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon – but from there, it’s wholly plausible that guys like Justin Grimm, Trevor Cahill and others can recapture their 2015 success and be that third guy. Or maybe someone like Carl Edwards Jr. takes a big step forward.
- A final reminder from Epstein that a team can improve in more than one way at the Trade Deadline. You can take a weakness (like the bullpen) and try to improve it, or you can take a strength (perhaps the offense?) and make it even stronger. I’d guess that the Cubs are going to add an extra, external reliever at some point, but you know that Epstein is full of surprises.
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