As the Winter Meetings draw to a close, the Cubs President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein, addressed the media on a variety of Cubs-related topics (seen at NBC Sports Chicago, the Chicago Sun Times, and The Athletic).
Be sure to check out those links for his full comments last night, but we’ll hit on some of the highlights, alongside some of my own thoughts …
- First, let’s hear how Epstein feels about the Cardinals big start to the offseason, specifically the addition of Marcell Ozuna, straight from his own mouth:
— NBC Sports Chicago (@NBCSChicago) December 14, 2017
- At the time, Epstein didn’t know what the return for Ozuna was going to be, but we now know it was quite weak, so … not much relief there. With that said, Epstein admits that this winter was always looking like a potentially big one for the Cardinals, who have a solid group of prospects, plenty of cash-on-hand, and a hunger to return to the playoffs for the first time since they were beaten in the NLDS … by the Cubs in 2015. Good pull, Theo.
- Epstein also suggested that they expect the Cardinals to enter 2018 with one or two new big bats (Ozuna being the first), a closer, and perhaps even a starter. Given the direction of the rumors lately, the other big bat could be someone like Manny Machado, Evan Longoria, or, to a less likely extent, Josh Donaldson, while the reliever could be the Rays’ Alex Colome. I’m not entirely sure the Cardinals need another starter right now, but maybe if they make some big trades an obvious spot could open up.
- Also, this is something we’ve danced around a bit, but Epstein puts it quite plainly: “As we looked at what we hoped would be a seven-year window for us, we knew there’d be a bit of a transition after 2017 to 2018.” In other words, given some exiting players, next year’s free agent group, expected arbitration raises of the future, and about a million other reasons, 2018 is a bit of an in-between year for the Cubs. So it makes some sense that a team like the Cardinals might look to capitalize on that and sneak into the playoffs during what might otherwise going to be a Cubs-dominated era.
- At the same time, Epstein admits that 2018 can be swung heavily by the development of the Cubs’ existing players. And to be sure, he’s quite right. Imagine this: most of the main starters have perfectly normal/career-average seasons next year … but Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber take the next step in their development. Suddenly, that’s something like five sure-fire All-Star caliber players in Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Russell, and Schwarber. Obviously, the Cubs can still make the postseason if they struggle quite a bit (look at 2017), but their upwards mobility is very, very high.
- And, of course, the same could be said about Ian Happ, Javy Baez, Albert Almora, Jason Heyward, and even, to an extent, Jose Quintana. I don’t think I’m being a homer when I say the Cubs might have one of the highest collective ceilings in all of baseball.
- In terms of building the super-pen Joe Maddon seems to want, Epstein agrees that it’s become more important than ever, but isn’t about to sink all the Cubs’ resources into buying one. “There’s definitely a shifting philosophy in the game where there’s increased importance on the ‘pen and slightly less on the rotation,” Epstein said. “But there’s a contradictory dynamic which is relievers are a lot less predictable than starters. So if you react to the first dynamic and put all your resources in the ‘pen and then become the victim of unpredictability and vacillation of performance, then you’re in a really tough spot.”
- Agreed. Which is why, so far, I’ve really liked the Cubs lower-risk investments in Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek. If a guy like Justin Wilson bounces back and Carl Edwards/Pedro Strop remain strong set-up options, the Cubs bullpen, as a group, is very strong. If a guy like Dillon Maples steps forward, they could be downright terrifying. They may not have one of those singularly top arms, but I’d venture that like the rest of the roster, when these relievers are at their best, few units could compete top to bottom (okay, maybe I’m being a bit of a homer now).
- Speaking of that bullpen, it sounds like as of last night, Brandon Morrow is the Cubs’ closer for next season, and I’m perfectly cool with that … but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other options still available. “We’re not still looking (for a closer). There’s a very small number of potential acquisitions that would cause us to restructure that. Wade Davis is certainly one of them.”
- But Epstein warned that moving to aggressively for a closer right now just because names are flying off the board might “preclude us from getting the starter we want later on …. ” Interesting. Very interesting. We know the Cubs are likely to add another starter and money is obviously always going to be a factor, but comments like this make me wonder if the starter they want might require a particular financial commitment. But then again, that’s so vague that it could mean anything from Alex Cobb (more likely) to Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish (less likely), or even a trade candidate with a healthy contract. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
- For what it’s worth, Epstein left things on that “wait and see front” extremely vague, mentioning that he didn’t think another move would come before the Cubs packed up and headed home, but those comments were before the Cishek signing, so you just never know, I guess!