Cubs

Cubs plan to keep stockpiling pitching even as 2018 staff comes into focus

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AP

Cubs plan to keep stockpiling pitching even as 2018 staff comes into focus

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — In a way, the Cubs are playing not to lose right now.

That may seem like an odd way to approach the MLB offseason for a team that has made it to three straight National League Championship Series. 

But in reality, it's a smart way to gear up for 2018.

Theo Epstein's front office knows they can't count on the remarkable run of health the Cubs pitching staff posted in 2015-16. Last year, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks missed several weeks each with injuries, but the staff was otherwise pretty healthy.

So this winter is all about pitching, pitching, pitching and more pitching. It's a war of attrition and the Cubs are trying not to lose the war.

The Cubs entered the offseason with a clear need for two starting pitchers, a closer and at least one other high-leverage reliever. They've since signed Tyler Chatwood and reached an agreement with Brandon Morrow that should become official Tuesday morning.

Check off one starter and one impact reliever, a guy who could slot in at closer if the Cubs can't bring back Wade Davis.

That pair of moves has helped the Cubs relax a bit at the MLB Winter Meetings this week at Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort, but the hunt for pitching will never be truly over.

"One way to look at the offseason is to look at all the different ways a season can be sunk and build to mitigate those threats," Epstein said. "Our greatest threats right now relate to pitching and not having enough quality pitching, suffering multiple injuries to pitching, not having enough depth."

Fans want to know about a leadoff hitter and that's fair, but run prevention is dominating the Cubs' attention.

They're open to trades from their glut of young, controllable position players for impact pitching, but Epstein and Co. are also still hot on the free agent market, in talks with Alex Cobb and other potential starters. 

Even after the Morrow signing becomes official, the Cubs still figure to be involved in what Epstein calls a very deep reliever class. 

Morrow doesn't have a long track record of health — he's appeared in more than 20 games in a season just once (2017) since 2012 — but the Cubs are wary of injury issues for every pitcher they acquire. They know full well the injury risks associated with pitching and don't intend to push anybody they sign or trade for.

Joe Maddon is a huge proponent of rest and the Cubs have no interest in running relievers — closers or not — into the ground by having them throw more than three outs on a consistent basis.

Is there any scenario in which the Cubs leave the "Happiest Place on Earth" with a content feeling about their 2018 pitching staff?

"You can't dictate the timetable, so I think an opportunity that really makes sense presents itself and we hesitate, I'd be disappointed," Epstein said. "But I also don't want to make something happen just for the sake of making something happen.

"We'll try to be really thorough, try to be really creative and try to be aggressive when appropriate to continue to round out this pitching staff. It really doesn't matter when you get stuff done — at the winter meetings, after the winter meetings, in January, in spring training — as long as you end up having a pitching staff that is really talented and deep enough to withstand the attrition that always happens during the course of the season.

"We'd love to add another starter one way or another if we could and at least one more reliever."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Yu Darvish, Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa and more

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Yu Darvish, Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa and more

Tuesday on Sports Talk Live, David Kaplan along with Chris Bleck, Rich Campbell and Jordan Bernfield discuss:

            -the posibility of the Cubs signing Yu Darvish and the need for one more pitcher in the rotation

            -Jim Thome looking like he'll be inducted into Cooperstown tomorrow

            -Sammy Sosa's Hall of Fame chances

            -Corey Crawford back to working out as the Hawks losing continues

            -DeMarcus Cousins with a game for the ages, but is his baggage worth signing him?

            -Do the Eagles have a chance of beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl?

Day after reported offer to Yu Darvish, now Brewers have trade offer for Christian Yelich, too?

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USA TODAY

Day after reported offer to Yu Darvish, now Brewers have trade offer for Christian Yelich, too?

The Milwaukee Brewers apparently mean business.

How much that business will pay off in superstar players remains to be seen, of course, but a day after the Cubs' division rivals to the north reportedly made a contract offer to free-agent starting pitcher Yu Darvish, there's a report out there that they also have put together a trade offer for Miami Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich.

There's been plenty of discussion involving Yelich this offseason as a trade target for just about every team in the game. The Marlins — and more specifically their new regime led by Derek Jeter — sparked speculation that they'll deal just about anyone after trades that shipped Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon out of South Florida. That fueled guesses that Yelich would be next considering how attractive a trade candidate he is, with five seasons of major league success under his belt (including a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger) and a desirable contract that keeps him under team control for another five seasons.

So of course it's no surprise that any team, including the Brewers, would have "strong interest" in acquiring Yelich. The Brewers, however, might be a more attractive trade partner than most considering their rebuilding efforts that have produced a bunch of young talent the Marlins might find appealing. And with the Brew Crew advancing their timeline last season and becoming unexpected competitors with the Cubs in the National League Central, adding a player of Yelich's caliber could change the dynamics in the division.

Social media is home to plenty of Cubs fans who'd like to see Yelich land on the North Side, seeing an opportunity to upgrade in the outfield after less-than-ideal 2017 campaigns from the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist. But after the Cubs' own wildly successful rebuild and last summer's trade with the White Sox, the minor league cupboard isn't as fully stocked as it used to be, and that could make crafting a return package difficult. That is, if the Cubs were even interested in acquiring Yelich in the first place. They're pretty happy with their already populous outfield.

The team across town has been involved in plenty of online speculation regarding Yelich, too. But while the White Sox have a tremendous amount of minor league talent, they might not be far enough along in their rebuild to part with any of their highly rated young players until they know exactly what they have.

The Brewers, for what it's worth, had six of the top 100 prospects in baseball as of MLB Pipeline's most recent (and soon to change) rankings: the Nos. 13, 59, 81, 82, 86 and 97 guys. Is that enough to fetch Yelich? And is Yelich enough to put the Crew on even footing with the Cubs in 2018 and beyond? And what if Darvish takes the Brewers up on their offer?

All valid questions. But the biggest question involving the Brewers: Who's going to sponsor the sausage race?