Well there’s no doubting it; we are in the meatiest part of the 2016 season – after the All-Star break, and just before the Trade Deadline.
Right now, teams across Major League Baseball are deciding if they’ll sell, if they’ll buy, or to what extent they’ll do either. Draftees are signing with their teams (or letting them down easily), highly contested races are taking place, and rumors abound at every turn.
It’s pretty darn fun.
Speaking on most of the matters above (plus a bit more) – as they relate to the Chicago Cubs – is President of Baseball operations, Theo Epstein. You can read the highlights of his comments (along with my thoughts) below, and check out everything in full here at CBS Chicago, CSN Chicago, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Tribune (x2), and ESPN Chicago. Enjoy.
- The Chicago Cubs will very likely improve their team with external pieces before the August 1st trade deadline in 2016, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that improvements must come from any one area. Yes, help in the bullpen seems to be the most obvious area for additions, but Epstein reminds us that there are many ways to improve a team. “I don’t think it’s productive to pigeonhole yourself into thinking you have needs in just one specific role as the key to improving this club,” Epstein said. “There are so many variables. Things change.” The way your team looks or struggles now may be completely different than the way it looks or struggles in September. With a number of interesting bullpen pieces working their way up the Cubs’ minor league organization (Joe Nathan, Brian Matusz, for a couple examples), the bullpen issue might look completely different a few weeks from now. Similarly, the Cubs have a number of position players (especially outfielders) expected back, two of whom can hit from the left side (Dexter Fowler and Chris Coghlan). Their presence on the team and in the lineup can dramatically alter the Cubs approach at the deadline.
- But at some point, most likely, the Cubs will look to add to their team and that’s certainly going to cost them. And according to Epstein, there are no untouchables in the organization. Of course, there are players that identify so obviously as core pieces, that it’s quite difficult to envision a trade occurring, but, Epstein claims (as he always has) that they are always open to the conversation.
- On the Drew Pomeranz to the Red Sox trade, Epstein wasn’t surprised, claiming that sometimes the trade deadline can be a better forum for long-term pieces than the offseason. To that end, the Cubs are currently working on many fronts, but are always keeping an eye out for a trade that can help the team both now and in the future.
- But even though the Cubs are keeping an eye on the future, priority number one remains the 2016 season. The Cubs are in one of the best positions to succeed as they have ever been, so improving this year’s club trumps all other needs. In fact, Epstein claims that the Cubs had a few things going on just before and during the All-Star break, so something can happen at any moment. These sort of deals are often built up over weeks (and sometimes months) before they actually go down. And remember, Epstein knows – better than anyone – the importance of this particular season. The starting rotation underscores that better than anything else: Jake Arrieta has only one more year on his contract after 2016, Jon Lester and John Lackey are each getting older (and presumably slightly less productive), Jason Hammel is probably gone after 2016, and Kyle Hendricks is pitching better than he ever has before. The time to strike is now, and the Cubs will not miss that boat.
- That said, Epstein wants to remind everyone of the multiple internal reinforcements that are on their way: Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler, Chris Coghlan, Joe Nathan, Brian Matusz, etc. It was not but 10 days ago, in fact, that Epstein said he expected the bullpen improve in three ways 1. A current member of the pen stepping up (like, say, Justin Grimm), 2. a Cub not in the pen moving up (like, say, Matusz/Nathan) and 3. an external option showing up (you know the names). Internal improvements can be just as impactful as trades and external improvements don’t always work out. Root for the best performance to shine through, not just the shiny new toy. The Cubs are keeping an open mind.
- While you may have wanted to pull your hair out during the Cubs 6-15 stretch leading up to the All-Star break, Epstein and the front office saw it quite differently. According to Epstein, a stretch like that can be beneficial (obviously, to an extent), because it serves to highlight a team’s vulnerabilities. Every team has them, but when you’re winning the way the Cubs were at the beginning of the season, they’re more difficult to identify. You’d obviously never hope for a stretch like that, but for the Cubs, it happened in the best way possible (when they had a commanding lead of the division). A record 116 wins may now be out of reach, but the Cubs may also be better positioned to make moves and last deeper into October.