SAN DIEGO — Jed Hoyer busted out the fishing and football metaphors to explain how the Winter Meetings have gone for his front office.
The Cubs have so far not made a move of any magnitude on baseball's biggest offseason stage, but that's not really a surprise. Their Opening Day payroll is already projected for about $6 million over the luxury tax threshold and so far, there hasn't been much movement in the trade market.
Hoyer called the first couple days in San Diego productive in terms of having conversations and laying groundwork. But when asked if he thought the Cubs would make a substantial move before the end of the Winter Meetings, Hoyer wasn't optimistic.
"Right now, we don't have anything that's in the red zone," the Cubs GM said. "That'd be my instinct. But at the same time, there's a bunch of days left. More than any other time of year, things happen quickly at the Winter Meetings. That's the one great thing about the Winter Meetings, where an idea can go from the germination to deal very quickly because we're in the same place and people have a certain level of motivation."
The Cubs leaving San Diego without a big trade or adding impact players to the 2020 roster is certainly frustrating for fans who are still trying to wrap their heads around how this team has gone from a potential dynasty to one that is now likely breaking up the core of players.
It's frustrating to the Cubs, too. As Hoyer put it, "the percentage of times that you cast into the water and get a fish is really rare," while preaching patience on the team's offseason.
In a lot of ways, the winter is out of the Cubs' hands. Because they're not players at the top of the free agent market while they attempt to shed payroll, they have to wait for teams to decide to turn to the trade market to fill their roster needs. When Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rendon are still out there and require only money — and not a haul of prospects or big-league players — to acquire, it's understandable teams would want to wait that out before resorting to meeting the Cubs' asking price for Kris Bryant.
"The people that are making that decision, they're trying to figure out that calculus," Hoyer said. "In some cases, they want to make a trade because that's easier or they like that player a lot and in some situations, they'd rather just spend the money. That's always the calculus you have this time of year — the teams that are in those markets are making that decision."
So it goes for the Cubs, who are spending another Winter Meetings preaching patience and another offseason operating more at the fringe of the big-league roster than at the top of it.
That's not to say the Cubs are still figuring out their plan of attack for the offseason. They're aligned in their focus this winter — somewhere in the middle of rebuilding and going all-in for the immediate future. More like retooling on the fly.
Theo Epstein's front office isn't planning on punting on 2020, even with a rookie manager, a brand new coaching staff and more budgetary restraints. Not when the division is still within reach, as no other team has emerged as a powerhouse within the NL Central.
The Cubs also aren't going to mortgage the long-term future for the next couple of years. Ideally, they would be able to make moves to keep the team competitive during the window of contention in 2020 and 2021 while also ensuring the roster has a better long-term future than is currently constituted.
"The makings of a very, very good team is currently under control on our roster, with a chance to win the division. You do that and you have a chance to have a great October," Epstein said Monday. "That's not to be taken lightly. At the same time, we can't just pretend that we can keep putting off making some important decisions for the future if there's an opportunity to strike that can help ensure a better future, we have to do that. We also have to be very mindful of what's on our roster right now, how we can complement it and how we can put ourselves in the best possible position for 2020. Both things are important."
The Cubs have been having a lot of conversations with various relievers and role players to round out the roster, similar to the moves they've made so far in free agency (right-handed pitcher Dan Winkler), trade (right-handed pitcher Jharel Cotton) and the waiver wire (left-handed pitcher CD Pelham).
"The end of our roster did struggle last year in certain places and we have to do a better job of fortifying that," Hoyer said. "And so those conversations are really important. They're not the names you read in trade rumors and stuff like that, but they are really important and we are having a ton of those conversations."