Cubs

Can Cubs land a big-name outfielder at winter meetings?

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Can Cubs land a big-name outfielder at winter meetings?

Can the Cubs accomplish what they need to do on the pitching side and still have enough money leftover to make a significant multiyear commitment to a position player?

“I wouldn’t rule anything out or anything in,” team president Theo Epstein said.

That’s how the Cubs roll into the winter meetings that begin Monday in Nashville, Tennessee, looking to add to their rotation, strengthen the bullpen and find someone to play center field. But after assembling a young core that advanced to the National League Championship Series, the Cubs won’t feel any pressure to walk out of the Opryland with deer antlers (as general manager Jed Hoyer would say).

The Cubs already crossed a major item off their list, agreeing to a two-year, $32 million contract with veteran right-hander John Lackey, a short-term deal that looks reasonable at a time when the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks just guaranteed $423 million combined to David Price and Zack Greinke.

[MORE: Jeff Samardzija’s bets pay off with $90 million deal from Giants]

Epstein’s front office always likes to keep an open mind and kick the tires on everything, but the Lackey deal and a surplus of hitters does create a degree of flexibility.

All the buzz leading up to the winter meetings revolved around big-ticket pitchers, and maybe now the Cubs will get a better idea of whether or not they can really compete for an established outfielder from a group that includes Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon and Dexter Fowler.

“It depends on some other things that take place,” Epstein said. “Sometimes, when you make a trade, it opens up the ability to then sign a free agent. Not all really good players are expensive, especially if you get them through trade and you can get creative with how you structure certain deals.

“We’ve been working with our business side on some ways to create a little bit more room for 2016 within the parameters that we have.”

[MORE: Cubs see center-field possibilities for Javier Baez]

The Cubs have been linked to the Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians and San Diego Padres since the July 31 trade deadline, and maybe that’s where they find another starter like Julio Teheran, Danny Salazar or Tyson Ross.

The Cubs also have nearly $80 million still tied up in infielder Starlin Castro, catcher Miguel Montero and pitcher Jason Hammel. You know Castro’s name will somehow wind up on MLB Trade Rumors this week, but the Cubs believe a healthy Hammel will bounce back next season, and catching isn’t an area where a contending team can cut corners.

The Cubs will probably have to think along those lines – trades to add pitching and free up more funds – if they want something more than a stopgap solution in center field (which actually might make the most sense at this point in The Plan).   

“I don’t feel like if we do something on the pitching end, we won’t be able to do anything with position players,” Epstein said. “It just depends on exactly the type of commitments you’re looking at, and how they’re structured.”    

With the St. Louis Cardinals positioned to spend aggressively and already having a comfort level with Heyward, it’s hard to see the Cubs actually setting the market for a defensive game-changer and a good-enough hitter who’s still only 26 years old.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

If years were an issue in the Jeff Samardzija talks – The Shark got $90 million over five from the San Francisco Giants – then it will probably be problematic with Gordon as he enters his age-32 season after a World Series run with the Kansas City Royals.  

During the season, the Cubs and Fowler gave off vibes that it would only be a one-year rental, though Epstein has kept the lines of communication open with agent Casey Close (who represents Fowler and Gordon and is involved with Heyward’s camp).

If the money is right – and that is usually a question mark in the economic climate surrounding this franchise – the Cubs have so many other selling points to free agents.  

“We’ve become a really attractive destination,” Epstein said. “It’s not just getting to be one of the Final Four this year. It’s the atmosphere at Wrigley Field. It’s our fan base. It’s that we’re still on this tremendous journey to try to win a World Series for the first time in what will now be 108 years.

“It’s (manager) Joe Maddon and the culture that he creates. It’s our ownership and how they treat players like family. It’s our young players and veterans wanting to come here and be part of this surge that we’re having right now.”

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

The changing of the guard continues for the Cubs this offseason. 

After the team hired a new hitting coach yesterday, it was reported today that they're losing a front office member: 

Rehman, who has been with the Cubs in the same position for the last seven years, will reportedly head up the Rangers' analytics department. According to the Chicago Tribune, Rehman's role was " evaluating existing systems, and recognizing and applying solutions in an effort to create competitive advantages for the organization." 

All reports indicate that he'll be doing similar analytic-based work with the Rangers. 

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis didn't go all scorched earth on the Cubs in a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, but he had quite a lot to say after being ousted by the organization after just one year as the hitting coach.

The Cubs made Davis the scapegoat for an offense that faded down the stretch, struggling for the entire second half and scoring just 1 run in three of the final four games of the year.

When he was hired a year ago, Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon talked up Davis' impressive resume that includes a 19-year MLB career, two separate stints as a successful hitting coach with the Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox and a philosophy that they hoped would withstand the test of time in the game today, preaching more contact and using the opposite field.

Throughout the 2018 season, Maddon often commended Davis for his ability to communicate with players, particularly in the area of mental approach to each at-bat.

Now that the dust has settled a bit on his firing, Davis felt he had some issues getting through to some Cubs players.

I learned a lot this year," Davis told the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer. "I learned that the next situation I get in, before I say yes to a job, I need to make sure I know the personnel I'll be dealing with in the clubhouse. I hope the next guy connects better with the players, because I felt that there were multiple players there I didn't connect with. It wasn't that I didn't try; it just wasn't there.

The Cubs hired Anthony Iapoce as their new hitting coach Monday afternoon. Iapoce comes over from the Rangers and has a direct link to John Mallee, who was the Cubs' hitting coach for three seasons before being let go when Davis became available last winter. 

Iapoce also spent three seasons with the Cubs as a special assistant to the GM, overseeing the organization's minor-league hitting from 2013-15. Presumably, he found a way over those years to connect with the Cubs' top young hitting prospects — guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras that are now leading the big-league lineup.

Hopefully he has better success at this than I did," Davis said of Iapoce in the Sun-Times article. "But regardless of who's there, certain players there are going to have to make some adjustments because the game's changed and pitchers are pitching them differently. They're not pitching to launch angles and fly balls and all that anymore. They're pitching away from that. They're going to have to make that adjustment whether I'm there or not.

Davis had a whole lot more to say on the matter and I encourage you to read the full interview with Wittenmyer over at ChicagoSunTimes.com.

A healthy Bryant very likely could've changed everything for Davis and the Cubs' 2018 lineup. Contreras hitting like he's capable of in the second half would've made a huge difference, as well.

But the end result is a finish to the 2018 campaign that was viewed universally as a disappointment — particularly in the offensive department — and the Cubs are left with their third different hitting coach in three seasons.