Wade Davis

CubsTalk Podcast: Dreaming on Christian Yelich and how Boras navigates a slow market

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AP

CubsTalk Podcast: Dreaming on Christian Yelich and how Boras navigates a slow market

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss the impact of the Marlins' trades and daydream on how Christian Yelich would be a perfect fit atop the Cubs order if Miami ever decided to move him. Plus, where do the Cubs stand with free agent pitchers and is a Wade Davis return still possible?

Crull also chats 1-on-1 with MLB super-agent Scott Boras about Jake Arrieta's value and how to navigate a slow-moving free agent market.

Listen to the entire podcast here:

Cubs trying to stay flexible amid slow-moving pitching market

Cubs trying to stay flexible amid slow-moving pitching market

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Even if the Cubs pack their bags and head back to Chicago with just a guy rehabbing from Tommy John surgery as their only haul from the MLB Winter Meetings, the week has not been in vain.

Technically, the Cubs also reached terms with Brandon Morrow on Tuesday night, but the report of the agreement between the two sides was released Sunday night before the Winter Meetings kicked off at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort.

Don't blame fans for being anxious with a slow-moving market. The Winter Meetings are later than normal this year, and many free agents prefer to know where they're going to end up before Christmas so their families can kick back and enjoy the holidays.

The Cubs are also in an enviable position where they don't have to do anything. They already reeled in their big fish before the meetings (Morrow and starter Tyler Chatwood, signed to a three-year deal last week). That allows Theo Epstein's front office to be selectively aggressive and not reactionary or desperate, which is right where they like to float.

The Cubs could be just fine heading into 2018 with Mike Montgomery as their leading candidate for the fifth starting spot (which would clearly make the southpaw swingman happy). But they would prefer to add another arm to help mitigate the usual wear and tear pitching staffs face throughout the year.

They also can slot Morrow in at closer and piece the bullpen together from there.

"We're not still looking (for a closer)," Epstein said Wednesday evening. "If we go in with the complete status quo, Morrow would be closing.

"There's a very small number of potential acquisitions that would cause us to restructure that. Wade Davis is certainly one of them."

The Cubs have made no secret they would love to have Davis back for the right price and Epstein confirmed Wednesday he has met with Davis' agent throughout the Winter Meetings.

The Cubs loved the veteran closer's impact on the field, and he was clearly their most trusted reliever from Day 1 of the 2017 season. MLB Network's Dan Plesac even classified Davis as the Cubs' MVP last year.

But the organization also loves Davis' quiet leadership and steady presence off the field, how he took control of the bullpen and helped make everybody around him better with his astute insight into pitching.

That being said, the Cubs are trying to stay nimble and don't want to get backed into a corner by locking up too much of their resources to a closer and not leaving enough bandwith to add more rotation depth.

Meanwhile, the rest of the league is gobbling up relievers in a hurry and everybody seems to be getting around $9 million per year, even if they're not closers.

"It goes fast," Epstein said. "Once some guys come off the board, there's momentum to it. The agents want to make sure their guy doesn't get left out in the cold, so it's — get in at that value point.

"And then the team starts seeing guys come off the board and get a little bit more proactive themselves. Part of our balancing act with the finite amount of payroll flexibility and multiple needs, we need to make sure we balance those accordingly.

"In other words — not sign a reliever just because they're going off the board now. That might preclude us from getting the starter we want later on and vice versa."

At the time Epstein spoke those words, the Cubs still had the largest free-agent deal in baseball, with the $38 million handed out to Chatwood last week.

Once that changes, that might help bring some clarity to the Cubs' pitching situation, though the team is also still talking to other organizations about any potential impact pitching trades.

Epstein said Wednesday evening he didn't think the Cubs would make another move before they packed up and headed back north for the winter, but, "things could change with one phone call."

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."