Cubs

Dealing with White Sox is one of many ways Cubs can get creative in trade market

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Dealing with White Sox is one of many ways Cubs can get creative in trade market

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Before Major League Baseball opened the general manager meetings at this fancy hotel, Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer had already made contact with the other 29 teams, trying to get a feel for where the trade market is heading and whether or not they could pull off a blockbuster deal.

Even if nothing happens this week at the Boca Raton Resort and Club, the Cubs will be a team to watch, because they have too many young hitters and not enough frontline pitchers. Plus some big-picture questions about the franchise’s immediate financial flexibility, which means they can’t just throw money at the problem and will have to get creative.     

Like making a crosstown trade with the White Sox?

“I’d be up for it,” Epstein said Monday. “If it’s something that made sense, why not?”

[MORE: Epstein doubts Cubs can sign two expensive free agents]

“I don’t think on either side we’ve closed off an opportunity to get better,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “It’s probably the added wrinkle that if you’re wrong, you have to live with it eight miles away.

“But certainly the way we approach (it) – and I’m confident Theo and those guys approach it – is if it’s something that makes your club stronger, you explore it.”

More likely, the Cubs will target another American League Central team tilted toward pitching and revisit discussions with the Cleveland Indians about Carlos Carrasco or make a play for Danny Salazar.      

The Cubs could also go back to the San Diego Padres – another team they talked to leading up to the July 31 trade deadline – and try to make a deal for Tyson Ross.

Everyone knows how Cubs executives gravitate towards the players they got to know while working for the Boston Red Sox. Dave Dombrowski – Boston’s new president of baseball operations – won’t feel the same connection to a last-place team and might want to shake things up at Fenway Park. (Last week the Red Sox picked up their $13 million option on pitcher Clay Buchholz.)

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

With Addison Russell entrenched as the franchise shortstop, the Cubs can market a three-time All-Star (Starlin Castro) and a former first-round pick (Javier Baez) to any team looking for an up-the-middle solution. The Cubs could also try to move outfielder Jorge Soler after his breakthrough October performance (three homers and a 1.705 OPS in seven playoff games).  

There are questions about Castro’s focus, whether or not Baez will strike out 200-plus times a year and if Soler can stay healthy for an entire season. But at a time when run-scoring is at a premium, the Cubs can offer risky/potentially explosive offensive talents.   

“You can never say never,” Hoyer said. “If something makes sense where we would sort of trade out some surplus on the position-player side for some pitching depth, I think that’s something we have to explore.

“We loved our roster in September and the postseason as far as being flexible, versatile, deep. There’s a lot to be said for that. But I do think we may be approached on deals like that. And if it makes sense, we’ll certainly have to consider it, simply because we are somewhat lopsided.”

Epstein is on record saying he would love to keep this group of position players together, because it creates competition, insurance policies and matchup headaches for opponents. But the president of baseball operations is a realist.

[ALSO: Believe the hype? Cubs will be major players this offseason]

“It also might not be possible,” Epstein said. “We have some other areas that we need to address. And we may be forced into a situation where the right move is to take away someone from that position-player group in order to add impact pitching.

“I’d love to keep that position-player group intact and just add pitching without giving up any players. I’m not sure that’s going to be possible, given the nature of our situation, given what happens in the market.”  

Four days before the GM meetings began in South Florida, the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays had already engineered a six-player trade. Seattle acquired right-hander Nathan Karns, lefty C.J. Riefenhauser and minor-league outfielder Boog Powell, sending first baseman Logan Morrison, infielder/outfielder Brad Miller and right-hander Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay – all before the free-agent marketplace even opened.

“I expect the conversations (this) week to become much more detailed,” Hoyer said. “As we already saw with the deal between the Mariners and the Rays, I think it could be a fast-moving trade market.

“There could be – if not action in Boca – I definitely think there could be action soon after that. Just because I think a lot of ground will be laid for deals. Some years, you go to the GM meetings and you’re kind of information gathering. I think there’s probably going to be a little more urgency for teams, given the fact there’s already been a trade.

“People realize that things could happen quickly – and I think people could be ready to move quickly.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”