Theo Epstein saw one recent report that had the Cubs already contacting the other 29 teams in the majors looking for a starting pitcher.
“That one wasn’t really accurate,” Epstein said. “I’m sure we’ll talk to them all eventually, but haven’t gotten there yet. We’re on a limited phone plan, so we have to spread that out.”
Epstein was joking, but the president of baseball operations also didn’t really answer direct questions about whether or not the Cubs will have the wherewithal to land a big-money player this summer.
Until the Cubs start spending like a big-market team again – their rough payroll projection for 2015 is $100 million plus the $20 million earmarked for last year’s Masahiro Tanaka bid – the perception won’t go away.
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Joe Maddon – the relentlessly optimistic manager who did more with less while turning the Tampa Bay Rays into a small-market miracle – believes Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer will deliver before the July 31 trade deadline.
“I am confident that Theo and Jed and the boys – as long as we’re pertinent – (will) do whatever they can to augment what we’re doing,” Maddon said before Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field. “I totally believe that.
“So if it’s a pitcher, it’s going to be a pitcher. Whatever we need, I believe that they will attempt to make it happen.”
The Cubs already needed more pitching depth, even before Tsuyoshi Wada left Monday night’s game in the top of the third inning because of cramping in his left deltoid muscle.
While Travis Wood stepped in to throw 3.1 scoreless innings during that 4-2 win over the Dodgers – and Wada played catch on Tuesday with minimal soreness – the back of the rotation will have to be addressed at some point.
The Cubs sounded optimistic it was just cramping and Wada (1-1, 3.73 ERA, 1-for-7 in quality starts) wouldn’t be sidelined with a more serious shoulder issue. But in a next-man-up scenario, Maddon wouldn’t want to remove Wood from the bullpen equation.
“I really like what he’s doing,” Maddon said. “It’s really nice to see his name on that list. When he comes out like that for maybe one time through the batting order, he knows he can just let her go. He’s not trying to save anything for the fifth or the sixth inning.
“I think he’s really good at that. And when he’s that, he matches up against good right-handed hitters also, because of the carry on his fastball. I think he’s very valuable in that role.
“I don’t like the idea of Woody not being in the bullpen. I think Woody’s role in the bullpen is really important to us right now. Really important.”
That would leave Edwin Jackson as a possible emergency starter, with the Cubs feeling lucky if they could get four innings out of him, unless they find a rotation upgrade outside the organization.
“Am I counting on it?” Maddon said. “I never really look at it that way. I’m always prepared to go with what I have, or what we have. I guess I’m kind of used to that. My job is to get the most out of whoever’s here. That’s how I look at it.
“It’s always nice. Obviously, it would be great. Of course, you want to get stronger. (But) if the situation calls for us to get the most out of these guys, that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Cubs began the day with a .559 winning percentage that put them on pace for 91 wins this season. Epstein will be trying to find the right balance between slamming his foot on the accelerator and tearing up the runway his front office has engineered for the next five years.
“You can’t take any opportunity to win for granted,” Epstein said. “You have to seize the moment. At the same time, I think we’re cognizant of the fact that one of the primary reasons why we have the team that’s in contention right now is because a healthy organization has been built.
“You want to maintain that. That’s one of the things that’s made us good this year, and I think it’s going to continue to make us good for years to come if we maintain a really healthy organization.
“We wouldn’t sacrifice those things lightly. We wouldn’t trade prospects we believe in lightly. At the same time, there’s certainly a time and a reason to do it. When the right deal presents itself, we won’t be shy about it.”