Now that the All-Star break is behind us *and* Manny Machado has officially gone west, *and* a big reliever trade has gone down, I have a feeling we’re going to see more and more rumors pouring out quickly as we approach the July 31st MLB non-waiver trade deadline. How big will the next biggest piece moved be? Will the Cubs be aggressive or patient?
To help us navigate those waters and the Cubs role in the market over the next two weeks is none other than Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. He jumped on 670 The Score to discuss a wide range of topics, with some special attention on the deadline.
Full intereview right here:
Highlights, commentary, inconsistently dry, but occasionally clever, wit below:
- According to Theo Epstein, there’s not a (reasonable) trade out there for the Cubs that could beat the impact of a healthy Yu Darvish coming back to the mound in Chicago: “He’s got incredible talent and ability to impact the team, get on a roll where he can carry a starting staff.” Epstein went onto explain, but more than anything, they just want to get Darvish back out there and into a routine for his own sake. “The talent part will take care of itself.”
- Of particular note, Epstein said that the Cubs will be checking back in with Darvish, who’s “had a really good last couple weeks,” later today. So keep an eye out for that, because we could see a significant update. Also interesting, Epstein warned against taking any one thing Darvish says too seriously, because of the language barrier and his extreme openness/willingness to say everything that’s on his mind. “I wouldn’t read too much into any one statement that he says.” More than anything, Epstein continued, Darvish feels better than he did when he shut it down the last time around.
- Epstein believes that things clearly didn’t break the Cubs way throughout the first half of the season, and yet here at the All-Star break, they look up and they have the best record in the National League. Because of that, the fact that they could get some internal reinforcements, and the desire to always keep the long-term in mind, the Cubs will not be reactive or overly aggressive this July. “You can’t get reactive in this game,” Epstein said. “You end up making moves that might feel good in the moment or make you feel like you responded, but then you look up with the benefit of perspective and realize you really cost yourself in the long run.” HOWEVER, he also said that the team is absolutely open to improving externally and he specifically used the language “create a little more depth, a little more quality.”
- To me, that seemingly innocuous line is actually pretty significant. Epstein is always very careful with the words he choses and he could have said that a million different ways. But instead of just mentioning depth – the sort of additions every contending team makes every July – he also mentions adding more quality. And to me, that draws closer to the type of deal we all want to see. The sort of deal that makes the team better in an obvious way. Maybe that’s Zach Britton, maybe it’s something more significant (Jacob deGrom?). We’ll see.
- Theo Epstein thinks the Cubs we’re pretty “sneaky” in their late-first-half theft of first place from the Brewers, but has been very impressed with the way the team showed up down the stretch, particularly the offense. “This position player core has been sorta the heart of the team in a lot of ways over the last few years, but we’ve been waiting for the talent all to really manifest at once [like it has now].” Epstein was extremely complimentary of the offense, nothing that even though some of their foundational guys didn’t perform how they expected (clearly talking about Kris Bryant (injuries) and Anthony Rizzo (struggles)), the offense as a whole really stepped up. And they did it without the benefit of too many home runs.
- Epstein seems to believe that Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana may have locked themselves in just before the end of the first half, and that could be huge for the rotation in the second half. As for the rest of the rotation, Epstein knows that Jon Lester has really carried the team in the first half and that Yu Darvish will eventually get going, and then he got to Tyler Chatwood.
- Chatwood “knows he’s got to figure it out,” Epstein told 670 The Score. “His walk rate has really doubled with us. I think that’s unlikely to continue, but he’s gotta show that pretty quickly” in the second half (emphasis mine). I don’t want to add too much emphasis to something that could have been meant much less severely, but that is what Epstein said, so take “pretty quickly” as you will. In my mind, “pretty quickly” is probably relative to the time it’ll take Yu Darvish to get back. Because at that point, if Mike Montgomery is still throwing well, Chatwood’s share of starts could dwindle.
- Random, paraphrased thought from Epstein (re: making moves at the deadline): You almost always prioritize the long-term health of the organization above all else … except sometimes, when the perfect short-term move is there. But even then, the Cubs need to have a specific plan on how they’ll compensate for that move in the future.
- Theo Epstein couldn’t have sounded less concerned about Anthony Rizzo’s struggles in the first half, and that made me feel great. “If anyone is foolish enough to sell [on Rizzo], we’ll be buying that and doubling down.” Most importantly, Epstein reports that Rizzo is healthy and in a good place mentally about his struggles.
- Epstein wasn’t particularly surprised by some of the big performances from young players this season (Javy Baez, Albert Almora, Ian Happ, etc.), because he knows each of those guys are talented, but he does believe that the rapidity of the rise was a bit of a shock. He also thinks Baez was unfairly represented by the National media early in his career, because they just didn’t see him everyday and threw him away as “undisciplined” far too early. Yup. “Decision-making in the box was just the last part of his game to come around. It’s still a work in progress, but you can see how meaningful even incremental improvements are given his incredible ability.” We sure can, Theo.
- And finally, Epstein was very complimentary of Albert Almora and his ability to put the ball in play so consistently, particularly in this strikeout era. Epstein was also complimentary of how, when everyone was complaining about his playing time, Almora showed nothing but a dedication to helping the Cubs win. In other words, you won’t find him complaining or tweeting #FreeAlmora anytime soon.