It seems that we are all pretty familiar by now as far as how the Cubs go about doing things. It has practically been a mantra on this blog since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over.
The key word when it came to building what may now be the strongest organization in baseball has been value. The Cubs are where they are because they consistently extracted surplus value in free agency and in trades.
That should not change after a winning season. It shouldn't change just because the Cubs are a so-called big market team. If the Cubs are to remain competitive year in and year out, then they need to continue to come out even or ahead on the value ledger. Squandering that away at the first sign of success goes against everything this organization has professed for 4 years. The Cubs term has always been long term sustained success, not short term windows. The more chances you get, the better the odds are that come playoff time, you'll be the team playing the best baseball. As Jed Hoyer stated in this Bruce Miles article,
"The second take-away is you have to get there every year or almost every year because what you really want is to be that team, the hottest team. The Royals got really hot after they were almost eliminated by the Astros, and they rolled through people.
"You make it every year, and you have much better odds of being that hot team that can sustain three series."
Yes, the Cubs will kick the tires on David Price and Zack Greinke. They'd be crazy not to. But don't expect them to engage in a bidding war for their services. And if a bidding war on top tier pitchers means the Cubs can be opportunistic on a second tier pitcher such as Jordan Zimmerman, then that becomes a possibility as well -- but the Cubs won't have the market dictated to them. If they get a top tier or second tier pitcher, it will largely be on their terms. That is unlikely, but never say never. Sometimes pitchers slip through the cracks -- and in a free agent year with a lot of good starting pitches, you have to keep an open mind that an opportunity that makes sense presents itself.
Names we have read about as trade possibilities, pitchers such as Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, Julio Teheran, Sonny Gray, etc. are also very appealing -- but only to a certain point. In the case of pursuing a trade for a young cost-controlled starter, there will be a hefty cost in terms of cost-control that the Cubs will have to sacrifice.
And yes, you have to give up something of value to get something of value in return, but that is not the same as getting a player at all costs.
Hoyer has indicated that they will pursue multiple starting pitchers, but with a caveat...
“There has to be a level of common sense when thinking about what we’re going to do. We’ve been linked to everyone already.”
That common extends to how much they're willing to give up in terms of young players as Hoyer clearly stated he was wary of giving up too much depth. There are too many variables to any season when it comes to injuries and regression, but that may be especially true of a young team like the Cubs. Whom do you trade? No matter which name you pick, there is significant risk involved that the Cubs will give up a great deal of long term value. The more depth you trade, the greater the risk that you will give up value and the more vulnerable you become should there be injuries/regression on the position players side.
As Hoyer stated,
“That depth is going to be something we’re very reluctant to get rid of because of that. Because everyone always writes down a starting lineup on paper and a rotation and an eighth-inning guy and a closer and say, ‘There’s our team.’ And I think when you watch baseball over a long period of time, you realize that so rarely does happen when you start those same five guys (pitchers) over and over or guys in your starting lineup don’t get hurt or perform badly. And I think that having that really long lineup, that really good roster 1-25, that really wins the marathon.”
“I do think we’re going to be reluctant to get rid of too much of that depth because I think that’s a real strength in the future.”
It makes sense and the Cubs owe to themselves to keep an open mind and explore all avenues, but they cannot start chipping away at something until it no longer is a strength - and that is true whether you are talking about payroll flexibility or position player depth. Still, there has to be a balance.
“You want people to know right away that you’re interested,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to look to improve the team within reason.”
Within reason are the words we have to keep in mind here.
And what we come down to is this: We should expect the Cubs to pursue young, talented, cost-controlled pitching while still preserving their position player depth to the greatest extent possible. It is going to be a difficult balance as Hoyer understands the Cub need to also improve their rotation depth,
"We could add a couple of guys at the major-league level. As far as what we hope to add to our 40-man roster, we're going to look to add considerable depth.
"One of the great things about our season was that we were really healthy in our rotation. I think we're realistic to know that's oftentimes good fortune, and we have to prepare for seasons where we're not as fortunate as far as starting-pitcher health."
The Cubs have found value in post-hype pitchers with the most notable example being Jake Arrieta. I don't expect the Cubs to try to fill out their rotation with flyers, but I think we should expect at least a similar acquisition or two. On the free agency front, I believe they will sign an undervalued mid-level option and not a top of the rotation starter. They'll get some present value for the rotation along with some near MLB ready depth -- and Hoyer indicated as much in the quote above -- but if the Cubs have the simultaneous goals of preserving their depth and long term payroll flexibility, then they're going to have spread that currency out as much as possible to fill those multiple needs.
I expect the Cubs to be creative. They'll explore all possibilities but in the end they'll make deals that make sense. They'll get value in return. In other words, I expect them to stick with what got them to a 97 win team that has some of the best young talent and most financial flexibility of any team in baseball.
Why veer away from what has worked so well so far?
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