Another way to think about Cubs making big deal for pitching at trade deadline

Another way to think about Cubs making big deal for pitching at trade deadline

The Cubs know agents and other teams will sense the desperation if they have to replace 40 percent of their rotation this offseason. Signing at least two frontline starters would be a massive undertaking and a huge financial commitment for a franchise that prefers to make long-term investments in hitters and use a pay-as-you-go plan for pitching.

Now the Cubs see the July 31 trade deadline as a chance to get a jump on that market, so they don’t feel forced to win two bidding wars on free agents or rushed into a lopsided deal for the top-of-the-rotation starter every contender wants.

That one big-picture idea gives more insight into Theo Epstein’s front office than the daily stock reports on a 36-34 Cubs team that’s up after Tuesday night’s 4-0 win over the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field. Kicking the can down the road might not make as much sense this time.

“Every transaction season — winter and summer — we’re always going to be looking for pitching,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “That will be our priority here at the deadline. We’re obviously working hard to assess it, making all the contacts and scouting everyone.

“But pitching’s always in high demand. That’s the reality of needing pitching — both in the winter and the summer — it’s always what people are looking for.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

The Cubs got creative last summer and flipped a redundant minor-league hitter (Dan Vogelbach) to the Seattle Mariners for the guy who would get the final out in the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7 (Mike Montgomery).

The Cubs don’t believe that moment alone will define the lefty swingman, who continues to look like a short-term fix and a long-range answer for a rotation that will see Jake Arrieta and John Lackey become free agents after this season. Following the game plan, Montgomery (1-3, 2.26 ERA) shut down the Padres for six innings, getting 12 groundball outs and four strikeouts while allowing only three singles and two walks.

Last season’s best-in-baseball rotation needs new blood, but the Cubs aren’t going anywhere if they can’t count on Arrieta (6-5, 4.64 ERA) and Lackey (5-7, 4.98 ERA) from one start to the next. Kyle Hendricks, last season’s major-league ERA leader, doesn’t know when his right hand tendinitis will subside and allow him to be activated from the disabled list.

Beyond the daunting task of trying to handle all their pitching business in one winter, the Cubs are only a half-game behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. No team in the National League Central right now can match this combination of on-paper talent, position-player depth, big-market resources and playoff-tested experience.

But even 70 games into the season, Cubs officials still don’t have a great feel for how ultra-aggressive to be (or not) at the end of July and what to make of the defending champs, beyond stressing how much they believe in this group.

“Still assessing,” Hoyer said. “We just haven’t been able to get away from .500 yet. I fully believe we will. I have confidence we will. But it’s just been one of those things where it feels like we’ve had win one, lose one, win two, lose two. Hopefully, we’ll get out of that trend and start getting away from .500 a little bit.

“The division thing is a false sense of security. I try to measure our team way more against .500, against how we look (on the field) than how we look in the standings, because I think how you look in the standings can be a little bit misleading.”

That eye test might take almost six more weeks, as buyers and sellers clearly emerge. Hoyer already noticed how much the trade chatter picked up once the draft ended last week. Nothing this summer will feel quite like the single-minded pursuit of Aroldis Chapman and the mythical 108-year quest. But instead of thinking about it like mortgaging the farm system, maybe this deadline will actually be planning for the future.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview


Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan talks with former Cubs front office executive and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti on how to fix a major league roster, when to deal a player who is heading into free agency, and more

01:30 How he moved from MLB to being a scout in the NHL

04:30 How to fix a major league roster

06:40 On building the roster when other teams know your weaknesses

09:30 When to deal a player who is facing free agency

11:30 Balancing trying to win now vs. building a team for a sustained run

14:30 On how a GM can't depend only on signing a big free agent

18:00 On his time with the Cubs in the 1980s

19:45 On how a GM deals with Scott Boras

22:00 On how a GM deals with talk radio and the media

26:00 On how he almost got CC Sabathia on the Dodgers for 2008 playoff run

28:00 On how not trading for Ryan Dempster helped bring Kyle Hendricks to the Cubs

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast


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Cubs aiming to finalize coaching staff this week

Cubs aiming to finalize coaching staff this week

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If fans are feeling impatient waiting for the Cubs coaching staff to be finalized, the front office feels their anxiety.

Jed Hoyer said Tuesday afternoon at the MLB GM Meetings the Cubs hope to settle their coaching staff before the week is up, putting an end to what he joked has been a six-week human resources process.

Theo Epstein confirmed Monday Will Venable will be back as a base coach for the Cubs in 2020, though which base is not yet certain. Venable who interviewed for the managerial vacancy this fall, spent 2019 as the first-base coach for the Cubs, but also filled in at third base early in the season when incumbent Brian Butterfield dealt with vertigo. 

In addition to Joe Maddon, Mark Loretta (bench coach), Butterfield (third-base coach), Lester Strode (bullpen coach) and Chris Denorfia (quality assurance coach) are also out.

That leaves the coaching staff as follows:

Manager — David Ross
Bench coach — Andy Green
Pitching coach — Tommy Hottovy
Associate pitching coach, catching and strategy coach — Mike Borzello
Hitting coach — Anthony Iapoce
Assistant hitting coach — Terrmel Sledge
Bullpen coach — Chris Young
Base coach — Will Venable
Base coach — open
Quality assurance coach — open

It's actually been longer than six weeks since the Cubs informed Maddon they intended to move on from the World Series-winning manager, but it hasn't even been three weeks since the Cubs officially hired David Ross as the replacement. 

But the offseason is fully in gear now and the Cubs would like to turn their full attention to the roster.

"We'd love to get [the coaching staff] done by the end of the week," Hoyer said. "I don't know if that's realistic or not, but that'd be a great goal. We're starting to put together some meetings and stuff with those guys coming to Chicago, so it's not like we're not moving forward with stuff. But I do feel like it's time to have that locked down."

Ross has obviously had a say in the new additions to the staff, going through what Hoyer called a "crash course" in interviewing and hiring coaches. Ross doesn't have much experience working with Green — the most important of the new hires — but he has worked closely with Hottovy and Borzello in the past from his days as a player. He's also been around those guys and the other holdovers on the coaching staff while serving as a special assistant in the front office the last three seasons.

Still, Hoyer said the Cubs are cognizant of Ross' need to have somebody on the coaching staff he trusts. 

"You want guys to fill certain roles on your staff — coaching, strategy, etc." Hoyer said. "But there's also a camaraderie you want to create. There's a relationship with the manager that you want to give that manager. It's a really hard and lonely job at times. 

"Having someone on that staff that you trust that you've known from the past that you can vent to or grab a beer with or grab breakfast with and talk about it, I think that's really important."

Once the final two spots on the coaching staff are finalized, Ross can also turn his attention to pressing matters like immersing himself in the Cubs' behind-the-scenes processes with the research and development staff and the rest of the front office.

Ross has some knowledge of that from his front office work over the last three years, but he also was enjoying time in retirement with his family in addition to his duties as an MLB analyst/broadcaster for ESPN.

"The best way he can hit the ground running is just become really familiar with all of the stuff that we do in the office even beyond what he's already done," Hoyer said. "Using it as a great learning winter for spring training, it's really important from an organization standpoint and a message standpoint. I know he wants to hit the ground running and the best way to do that is to be in the office as much as possible to be able to map out spring training."