DALLAS -- The Cubs have given Theo Epstein the keys to the kingdom.
The president of baseball operations has total control but wont necessarily rule with an iron fist. His management style has been described as inclusive. He listens and challenges his staff. He views his front office as a think tank or a boiler room.
The Cubs will run through every scenario at the winter meetings, which officially begin on Monday at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. This is where Epstein will earn his money.
Jason McLeod, the new Cubs scouting executive, started out with the San Diego Padres around the same time Epstein did. They were in their early 20s and would grab beers after the game and talk baseball. They would make side trips to see prospects at USC and Cal State Fullerton, even Adrian Gonzalez in high school.
It became quickly apparent that his intelligence level was at a way different level than everyone else, McLeod said. But he was always the guy (who) could sit in any crowd and have a conversation (and) make anyone feel important. He just has that special way (about him).
A new collective bargaining agreement will force the Cubs to work smarter. Spending in the draft and internationally will be capped and taxed. Testing for human growth hormone is another variable teams will have to consider.
Epstein has the authority to eat money in order to move Carlos Zambrano andor Alfonso Soriano. Buyer beware: The megadeals for Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder will be the biggest stories of the winter meetings.
This much is clear: The Cubs dont want to see them back in the division (or if they are, its at a price that makes the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers uncomfortable). Their agents would certainly benefit from the perception that the Cubs are in.
Epstein doesnt think you should pay too much attention to rumors. The Cubs are a major-market team that will explore every possibility.
Weve been consistent from Day 1 that (our) priorities (are building) this thing the right way, Epstein said, for the long haul, mainly through scouting and player development and through the acquisition of young players.
The second priority is (to) take advantage of every opportunity to win that you have. (But) were not going to do anything to serve the second priority that disrupts the first.
So any rumor that you hear, (its) probably worth your while to assess it through that lens. Not saying that were not going to make a move that might be unanticipated or catch people by surprise or might not on its face fit perfectly into that box. But generally thats our philosophy. Thats how were evaluating moves as we try to build this thing.
Even new manager Dale Sveum whos tight with Fielder after their time together in Milwaukee acknowledged that it might not be the time or the place to go all in.
Youd like to have all the great free agents that are out there, Sveum said. Were trying to do something here in Chicago to build now and win right now but be smart about it.
Its more realistic to think that the Cubs will land at least one mid-level starter for a rotation that was shredded by injuries and finished among the worst in the game last season.
Were having a ton of conversations with agents and with teams, general manager Jed Hoyer said. Hopefully, we can move the ball forward in Dallas this week. (We) know we have to add pitching depth, and thats something were focused on.
The Cubs also have openings at first and third base. Matt Garzas agent told him this will be an active winter meetings. Carlos Marmol is an intriguing closer, and several teams are looking for one. This front office wont be as attached to these players as the previous administration.
Its time to see what all the hype is about.
So far, theres been a lot of talk, Epstein said. There hasnt been a ton of action. Hopefully, this talk is over. We lead the league in press conferences. (Its) easy to have a vision for how you want the organization to be, an ideal in your mind. Its hard to put it into action.