Theo Epstein Speaks: Price, Samardzija, Budget, Pitching, Center Field, More

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Theo Epstein Speaks: Price, Samardzija, Budget, Pitching, Center Field, More

Chicago Cubs

theo epstein press conference[I was in the process of writing this post last night, hurrying, in fact, to get out the door to the kids’ Christmas performance, when the news of the John Lackey signing broke. Then, with Zack Greinke pulling a surprise signing, I decided to hold off on this until today.]

Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein met with the media today yesterday in advance of next week’s Winter Meetings, and you can read his comments in the Twitter feeds of Cubs beat writers Bruce Miles, Patrick Mooney, Jesse Rogers, Carrie Muskat, Gordon Wittenmyer, and Mark Gonzales (do yourself a favor and just follow them on Twitter already).

Some of the topics discussed by Epstein, together with my thoughts …

  • The Cubs and David Price did indeed have mutual interest, but, no surprise, it simply got to a level where the Cubs couldn’t go right now financially. I’d add from my perspective that it’s only prudent for a team to spend $30+ million annually on a pitcher on a long-term deal if they’ve got so much money available that they can completely paper over any mistake. That is to say, even if the Cubs, right now, could have afforded Price, it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea to maneuver to make it work.
  • As for Jeff Samardzija, Epstein admitted that conversations there are “ongoing.” We talked earlier today yesterday about the price level to which Samardzija talks might be going, and how that might be a less appealing fit for the Cubs than, say, John Lackey. Amending this line now, in light of the Lackey signing: what’s interesting is that Epstein made the comments about Samardzija talks being ongoing only moments before the Lackey signing broke – which means he was making those comments, presumably, long after he knew that a deal had been struck with Lackey. To be quite clear, that does not necessarily mean the Cubs are still pursuing Samardzija even after inking Lackey – it’s possible that, because of the impending physical, and because not every t was crossed nor i dotted, Epstein was leaving his options open. Maybe the Lackey deal could fall through, in which case the Samardzija negotiations would continue. But, yes, I’ll hold open the possibility that the Cubs will continue to pursue Samardzija even after signing Lackey. I tend to think it’s unlikely (a trade for a second starter, if one is to be acquired at all, seems far more likely). [UPDATE: Yup. Unlikely, indeed. The Giants just signed Samardzija.]
  • Also on Samardzija: now that Greinke has signed with the Diamondbacks for a massive sum, you can be sure that both the Dodgers and Giants are going to be going aggressively after, among other pitchers, Samardzija. That would seem to make it all the more difficult for the Cubs to make a legitimate go at Samardzija, unfortunately, especially if they want to have some flexibility to do stuff elsewhere.
  • Speaking of which, Epstein said that the baseball side is working with the business side to open up find money if necessary (Rogers). For now, I’m not reading anything more into that than a very general statement. We know the Cubs have a budget, we know that it’s going to limit them. We also know that Epstein is never going to say exactly how much they can or cannot do.
  • In center field, Epstein mentioned that the Cubs are open to Dexter Fowler returning, though it has to make sense for 2016 and beyond. Separately, he implied that the team could go with some kind of rotation – players that complement each other. On that, I’d point out that, even with a guy like Jason Heyward, you might see the Cubs doing some rotating, given that he’s elite in right field, but could also probably play effectively in center field. It all depends on personnel, but shifting around in the outfield (and infield) to optimize rest and match-ups is a very Joe Maddon thing, so I expect that to continue no matter who the players are. The nice thing, though, is that it gives the Cubs’ front office more options, comfortably – i.e., they can pursue a big-timer like Heyward, or they can go for platoon types, knowing Maddon will maximize their usage.
  • Speaking of center field and rotations, Epstein said that Javy Baez will play some center field in winter ball, which I discussed in more detail yesterday.
  • Epstein said – again, before the Lackey signing came out – that his guess was that the Cubs would sign a free agent and make a trade, though I can’t quite tell from my readings whether that was with respect to starting pitchers, only, or whether that was an overall kind of thing. Seems more likely it was the former, given the other holes the Cubs have; but, either way, Epstein said it was just a guess. I think it was always pretty plausible that the Cubs would sign a free agent starter and make a trade for another (indeed, many of us have been saying for weeks that, on the starting pitching side, inking a mid-tier starter and trading for quality, cost-controlled starter would be the ideal offseason).
  • Now we see what happens this weekend at at the Winter Meetings next week, which Epstein said could be “wild.” While I’m sure the Cubs have a plan of attack, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them waiting back a bit now that they’ve got Lackey in the fold. That gives them plenty of cover to be much more opportunistic on the pitching side. And, of course, if the right deal for center field presents itself, the Cubs will make a move. I’m not hiding the ball that I hope it’s Jason Heyward, but I also think there has to be a level of realism among fans about how much he’s going to cost (would anyone be at all shocked by 10 years and $250 million at this point?), and about whether the Cubs can really go there. If the Cubs wind up adding a pitcher in trade and signing a lesser center fielder (Denard Span? Austin Jackson? A Fowler return?), it’s going to be mighty hard to complain about that offseason.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.