BOCA RATON, Fla. – Before Major League Baseball opened the general manager meetings at this fancy hotel, Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer had already made contact with the other 29 teams, trying to get a feel for where the trade market is heading and whether or not they could pull off a blockbuster deal.
Even if nothing happens this week at the Boca Raton Resort and Club, the Cubs will be a team to watch, because they have too many young hitters and not enough frontline pitchers. Plus some big-picture questions about the franchise’s immediate financial flexibility, which means they can’t just throw money at the problem and will have to get creative.
Like making a crosstown trade with the White Sox?
“I’d be up for it,” Epstein said Monday. “If it’s something that made sense, why not?”
“I don’t think on either side we’ve closed off an opportunity to get better,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “It’s probably the added wrinkle that if you’re wrong, you have to live with it eight miles away.
“But certainly the way we approach (it) – and I’m confident Theo and those guys approach it – is if it’s something that makes your club stronger, you explore it.”
More likely, the Cubs will target another American League Central team tilted toward pitching and revisit discussions with the Cleveland Indians about Carlos Carrasco or make a play for Danny Salazar.
The Cubs could also go back to the San Diego Padres – another team they talked to leading up to the July 31 trade deadline – and try to make a deal for Tyson Ross.
Everyone knows how Cubs executives gravitate towards the players they got to know while working for the Boston Red Sox. Dave Dombrowski – Boston’s new president of baseball operations – won’t feel the same connection to a last-place team and might want to shake things up at Fenway Park. (Last week the Red Sox picked up their $13 million option on pitcher Clay Buchholz.)
[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]
With Addison Russell entrenched as the franchise shortstop, the Cubs can market a three-time All-Star (Starlin Castro) and a former first-round pick (Javier Baez) to any team looking for an up-the-middle solution. The Cubs could also try to move outfielder Jorge Soler after his breakthrough October performance (three homers and a 1.705 OPS in seven playoff games).
There are questions about Castro’s focus, whether or not Baez will strike out 200-plus times a year and if Soler can stay healthy for an entire season. But at a time when run-scoring is at a premium, the Cubs can offer risky/potentially explosive offensive talents.
“You can never say never,” Hoyer said. “If something makes sense where we would sort of trade out some surplus on the position-player side for some pitching depth, I think that’s something we have to explore.
“We loved our roster in September and the postseason as far as being flexible, versatile, deep. There’s a lot to be said for that. But I do think we may be approached on deals like that. And if it makes sense, we’ll certainly have to consider it, simply because we are somewhat lopsided.”
Epstein is on record saying he would love to keep this group of position players together, because it creates competition, insurance policies and matchup headaches for opponents. But the president of baseball operations is a realist.
“It also might not be possible,” Epstein said. “We have some other areas that we need to address. And we may be forced into a situation where the right move is to take away someone from that position-player group in order to add impact pitching.
“I’d love to keep that position-player group intact and just add pitching without giving up any players. I’m not sure that’s going to be possible, given the nature of our situation, given what happens in the market.”
Four days before the GM meetings began in South Florida, the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays had already engineered a six-player trade. Seattle acquired right-hander Nathan Karns, lefty C.J. Riefenhauser and minor-league outfielder Boog Powell, sending first baseman Logan Morrison, infielder/outfielder Brad Miller and right-hander Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay – all before the free-agent marketplace even opened.
“I expect the conversations (this) week to become much more detailed,” Hoyer said. “As we already saw with the deal between the Mariners and the Rays, I think it could be a fast-moving trade market.
“There could be – if not action in Boca – I definitely think there could be action soon after that. Just because I think a lot of ground will be laid for deals. Some years, you go to the GM meetings and you’re kind of information gathering. I think there’s probably going to be a little more urgency for teams, given the fact there’s already been a trade.
“People realize that things could happen quickly – and I think people could be ready to move quickly.”