Shohei Ohtani

CubsTalk Podcast: Cubs continue hunt for pitching while Kyle Schwarber is again linked in trade talks

CubsTalk Podcast: Cubs continue hunt for pitching while Kyle Schwarber is again linked in trade talks

MLB Network’s Dan Plesac stops by the CubsTalk Podcast to discuss Kyle Schwarber’s trade value, how the Cubs can solve their pitching deficiencies and why Wade Davis should still be on their radar even after the soon-to-be-official signing of Brandon Morrow.

Plus, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki break down why they are now even more convinced Schwarber won’t be traded, how far the Cubs got in Giancarlo Stanton talks, why Kyle Hendricks was part of the Shohei Ohtani recruiting package and how the 2018 bullpen may look.

Listen to the entire podcast here:

Shohei Ohtani fallout: How Cubs got a seat at the table with baseball's hottest commodity

Shohei Ohtani fallout: How Cubs got a seat at the table with baseball's hottest commodity

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The Shohei Ohtani Sweepstakes will go down as one of the wackiest — and most fascinating — free agent courtships in the history of Major League Baseball.

The fact the Cubs were even in the conversation down to the end is fascinating in its own right.

As he whittled down teams to a Final 7 before ultimately choosing the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani made his terms public: He preferred a West Coast team to make travel to his home country of Japan easier and an American League team made the most sense because it had been several years since he had played the field, serving as a designated hitter/pitcher in Japan.

The Cubs obviously cannot meet either of those requirements, yet Theo Epstein and Co. found themselves in the conversation, as the Eastern-most team left alive.

How?

"First and foremost, I think the Cubs have a lot to offer any player," Epstein said at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort Monday during MLB's Winter Meetings. "It's a really strong brand right now, it's a great environment, our fans are amazing, Wrigley is a great place to play and we're the only team in baseball that's made the Final 4 the last three years.

"Just a really bright outlook. And beyond that, we pulled many all-nighters just to get this document done and created a pretty substantial document that we submitted that was really thorough and detail-oriented that I think got his attention so he wanted to hear more about it."

Epstein is proud of how the Cubs banded together to get such an impactful pitch to Ohtani ready in rather short notice after the 23-year-old pitcher was posted last month.

"A lot of people worked really hard on it," Epstein said. "No regrets. It reinforced some great bonds in the organization. A lot of people pulled together under a pretty difficult deadline to make something really impressive happen.

"It got us to the final table and it didn't turn out our way, but I think we overcame a lot in the process. We're all glad we went through it, despite the result."

Epstein wouldn't — and couldn't — get into too much detail about the Cubs' pitch, but Kyle Hendricks and Joe Maddon were there among uniformed Cubs members. Epstein and Co. also did not give Ohtani a virtual reality tour of life as a Cub like it was initially reported.

The Cubs spent two hours talking baseball with Ohtani and came away feeling OK about their chances despite the limitations they had no control over (geography, lack of DH).

Epstein admitted he didn't come out of that meeting rationally thinking the Cubs had a shot, but he did think they increased their odds with the final presentation.

"I was so proud of the work the organization had done and I had felt so passionate about the fit that I probably fooled myself into thinking we had a real chance," Epstein said. "It was a great process and I have no regrets. I certainly wish him well; he was a really impressive kid.

"I think health-permitting, he's gonna do really, really well and have a long career. He'll be fun to follow."

The 3 biggest Cubs questions as MLB Winter Meetings kick off

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USA TODAY

The 3 biggest Cubs questions as MLB Winter Meetings kick off

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — As the baseball world descended upon Disney World, the Cubs are sitting pretty.

Theo Epstein's front office is poised to make "The Happiest Place on Earth" a reality as they already appear to have some of their major offseason issues resolved.

The Cubs reportedly have an agreement in place with late-inning reliever Brandon Morrow, a move that should be announced Monday once a physical is passed, the "I" are dotted and the "T"s are crossed. 

Couple that with last Thursday's signing of starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood and the Cubs' search for pitching has gone well even if they missed out on 23-year-old Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani.

However, while the Cubs are in an enviable position of filling most of the pressing holes on their roster entering the MLB Winter Meetings, there are still questions to be answered.

Here are the top three questions facing Theo and Co. in Florida this week:

1. Who will fill the final rotation spot?

The Cubs are said to be pushing hard for Alex Cobb to fill out their starting staff, but as of the official tipoff of the Winter Meetings, no deal had been reached.

Cobb and the Cubs have been linked since before the right-hander even reached free agency. There was a clear need for another starter on Chicago's North Side heading into the winter and Cobb had the connection with Joe Maddon from their days together in Tampa Bay.

Cobb's connection to the Cubs was strengthened when Maddon hired former Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey to serve in the same role in Chicago.

If the Cubs are able to secure Cobb's services, they will have their starting rotation set for 2018:

Jon Lester
Kyle Hendricks
Jose Quintana
Alex Cobb
Tyler Chatwood

Depending on the length of the deal for Cobb, the Cubs could have some rotation consistency for the next several seasons as all four current starters (Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood) are signed through the 2020 season.

However, if the Cubs and Cobb can't come to an agreement — they are hardly the only team bidding on the 30-year-old's services — who will be the fifth and final starter? The free agent market is rather slim after Cobb, Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish, though the trade market is clearly an option with the Cubs currently possessing a surplus of young position players.

2. Will the Cubs pull off any major trades?

There's no doubt the Cubs will be linked to plenty of trade rumors throughout the week at Disney World, but will anything actually come to fruition?

Kyle Schwarber has been linked to a pair of American League East teams — the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox — over the last few days, but it'd be tough to see the Cubs sell low on a guy they absolutely love.

Forget the fact that he's lost a bunch of weight and in the best shape of his life (which does matter if he's to improve his range in the outfield), here's how Epstein explained why the Cubs feel such a personal attachment to America's Now-Not-So-Large Adult Son:

"I will say that it's really an organization-wide evaluation of this player," Epstein said the day after the Los Angeles Dodgers eliminated the Cubs from the NLCS in October. "But I'm not skirting responsbility. I'll happily endorse him. He's the type of the player that we want to win here with the Cubs and have won with. 

"The fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start. But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming a little bit more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. That's important for him to get his identity back as a hitter, as a dangerous hitter that honestly, we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of Anthony Rizzo, per se. 

"When he reaches his prime, I think we feel like that's what he could be. He's got certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find that we don't necessarily have in surplus in abundance running around in this clubhouse and organization. Certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together. That's important. We rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he's the type of offensive player that you build around along with a couple other guys like him."

You'll be hard-pressed to find a better public endorsement of any player from Epstein.

But even if Schwarber isn't dealt, the Cubs can still trade any number of guys from a pool that includes Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr., Javy Baez or Addison Russell.

3. Will Morrow have any other new bullpen mates?

Assuming Morrow's deal doesn't hit any snags, will the Cubs add any other relief reinforcements this week?

It's a pretty good bet to take. Never in the history of baseball have relievers had such an impact on important games — particularly in October — and the Cubs clearly understand that as well as anybody.

After Maddon's mix-and-match approach with the bullpen the last two postseasons, the Cubs clearly cannot go into 2018 with World Series expectations when they boast essentially the same relief corps, with Morrow replacing Wade Davis.

Speaking of Davis, the presence of Morrow doesn't necessarily mean the 2017 Cubs closer with "huge balls" won't be returning. Morrow's reported $10+ million per year makes a Davis return less likely, but the Cubs certainly need another impact reliever and Morrow can slot in as a seventh/eighth inning setup guy.

Here's how the Cubs bullpen depth chart looks right now (with Morrow inserted):

Brandon Morrow
Carl Edwards Jr.
Pedro Strop
Mike Montgomery
Justin Wilson
Justin Grimm
Dario Alvarez

Plenty of high-leverage relief options remain available on the open market, including Brandon Kintzler (whom the Cubs were linked to this week), Addison Reed, Anthony Swarzak, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw.