Earlier today, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein jumped on 670 The Score for Spiegel & Parkins’ 1-year anniversary show (congrats!) and he covered a number of interesting topics.
If you want to hear the full interview, you can check it here:
At the top of the interview, Epstein made sure to mention that the Brian Duensing signing is not “officially official” yet, but the Cubs would be very lucky to have him back. According to Epstein, he’s a great teammate, a great fit in the bullpen, and someone who the Cubs came to rely on a lot last season.
After that, however, he turned his attention to the market overall – the uniquely slow pace – plainly stating that “Each of the 30 teams is making decisions … on their own” on what makes sense for them given the new CBA, their place in the competitive cycle, future free agent classes, and more. Epstein called it a blending of those factors, and clearly chose the words “on their own” quite carefully (read more about the accusations of collusion here (we’ll have much more on that more broadly soon)).
Epstein reminds us that the Cubs have, in fact, brought in a ton of pitching already this winter (Tyler Chatwood, Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Brian Duensing, Dario Alvarez, and Drew Smyly). Indeed, they’ve been among the most active teams on that front (and they might not even be done):
(Back of the napkin calculations and other caveats here)
Most $ Spent in FA:
1. Angels ~ $150M (4 players)
2. Rockies ~ $114M (4 players)
3. Phillies ~ $114.5M (3 players)
4. Cubs ~ $89M (6 players)
5. Mets ~ $53M (2 players)
Cubs have signed the most FAs, spent the 4th most.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) January 17, 2018
Epstein was quick to caution that it’s possible the Cubs are finished adding players: “We’d love to add another starting pitcher if it’s possible, but we feel like we certainly could break camp with what we have now.”
Sure. It could play out like that, and we’ve talked about how it would work with the Cubs’ current rotation.
That said, it’s not unlike a GM/President to be publicly “content” with the roster, but I think it would surprise everyone to see the Cubs come screeching to a halt, essentially one move away from completing an ideal offseason.
Fortunately, Epstein didn’t end the interview right there: “We don’t quite have the depth that we’re looking for if we do that, so we’re going to keep working on it.” Yes, yes, that makes a little more sense – but let’s keep going.
In a world where Montgomery is in the rotation, having another full-inning lefty in the bullpen [Brian Duensing] could be critically important. And now the Cubs have that, meaning that the Duensing bullpen signing is actually something of a nice hedge against the risk that the Cubs don’t sign another starting pitcher before this offseason is up.
To the extent the Yu Darvish-Jake Arrieta-Alex Cobb trio was willing to call the Cubs’ wait-it-out bluff, the team’s resolve just got a tiny bit more steely. Would you still like to see one of those guys sign up with the Cubs? Of course. But if it doesn’t happen for one reason or another, the Cubs have a little more overall coverage now in the pitching corps.
The Cubs depth is now significantly improved with Duensing in the fold, but still lacking on the starting front if Montgomery is in the rotation. Put differently, the Cubs are actually pretty fine on the front lines (Montgomery in the rotation, Duensing in the bullpen), but if something went wrong, they’d be in trouble. Hence Epstein’s, “We’re going to keep working on it.”
As to how the Cubs are going to keep working on it, I think your answer is free agency. Epstein was, near the end of the interview, asked whether he’s felt relieved that he hasn’t had to trade a position player yet, and while he saw both sides, it sure sounded like he was: “It’s a sliding scale. One of the core strengths of this team is the talent and depth of our position player base …. We rely on it to score runs, we rely on it to play great defense, we rely on it to throw out a great lineup.”
Epstein went on to add that their position player depth is particularly useful when a player is hurt or in a prolonged stretch of ineffectiveness, and it didn’t sound like he was inclined to part with that anytime soon – even the prospect of a top of the rotation pitcher comes with more risk than his position players.
So, based on Epstein’s comments and the makeup of the roster, I think it’s fair to assume the Cubs are still looking to add one more starting pitcher, and likely via free agency. Whether that guy is Alex Cobb, Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish or someone else remains to be seen, but it’s still the best bet that it’s one of those three guys.