Cubs

What’s next for Cubs after missing on Zobrist and Papelbon?

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What’s next for Cubs after missing on Zobrist and Papelbon?

The Cubs don’t have the same win-now window as the Kansas City Royals, or the high-end pitching prospect the Oakland A’s wanted for essentially two months of Ben Zobrist, an ideal fill-in-the-blanks player.   

The Cubs didn’t have the financial muscle to outbid the Washington Nationals and end Jonathan Papelbon’s misery with the Philadelphia Phillies, another aggressive move that would have strengthened their bullpen with an elite/eccentric closer.

The Cubs pursued Zobrist and Papelbon but didn’t make a splash on Tuesday, waiting for the right deal as big names kept coming off the board. Theo Epstein’s baseball operations department now has less than $5 million to play with – and less than 72 hours until Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Being realistic, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Cubs only upgrade in one of their three main areas of need, grabbing a starter, a reliever or a veteran left-handed hitter.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs bullpen will take another hit if Neil Ramirez goes down]

Someday, the Cubs hope to be in the same position as the Royals, adding a Johnny Cueto and a Zobrist to make it back to the World Series and win it all. The Cubs just don’t have that sense of urgency, or the fully developed lineup, or a blue-chip pitching prospect to match Sean Manaea, the headliner in the Zobrist deal.

Remember, the Cubs had considered Manaea for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft before his junior season at Indiana State University. Kris Bryant went out and had a monster year at the University of San Diego, while injury concerns dropped Manaea to the Royals at No. 34.

It didn’t cost the Nationals as much in terms of talent to get Papelbon, the homegrown Boston Red Sox closer when future Cubs executives Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod won their 2007 World Series rings.

The Nationals gave up Nick Pivetta – a fourth-round pick from the 2013 draft who had been pitching at their Double-A affiliate – and used their deep pockets to spring Papelbon from the worst team in baseball.

Papelbon agreed to rework his 2016 option, getting it guaranteed at $11 million instead of $13 million, according to The Washington Post, with $3 million deferred to 2017 and the Phillies kicking in $4.5 million to cover the rest of his 2015 salary.

Jon Lester had promised his buddy from Boston (342 career saves) would be on good behavior and fit right into the clubhouse – besides giving Cubs manager Joe Maddon a no-doubt answer for the ninth inning.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs like to go with that they know and had tried to trade for Zobrist over the winter, but couldn’t make a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. Zobrist is one of Maddon’s all-time favorite players – at least now the super-utility guy can’t be tagged with a qualifying offer and the attached draft-pick compensation. 

For now, there is a do-it-yourself feeling around the Cubs. 

“I’m always good with that,” Maddon said. “If you look at our group right now, the big thing there is to get more out of what we have. And there is more. If we had been offensively at the top of our game to this point – and be in this particular position, which is a good position – I’d be a little bit more concerned. There’s a lot left in the tank offensively for us over the next two months.”

Maddon, of course, put a positive spin on it, pointing to Miguel Montero, Javier Baez and Tommy La Stella getting healthy, hoping they can add another dimension to the team.  

“There’s a lot of in-house acquisitions to be made, too,” Maddon said. “A lot of times the answers do lie within. You just got to get more out of the group that is here.”

Theo Epstein on Manny Machado rumors: 'It's honestly something we're looking at and just rolling our eyes at'

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USA TODAY

Theo Epstein on Manny Machado rumors: 'It's honestly something we're looking at and just rolling our eyes at'

Despite the MLB trade deadline being two months away, rumors of the Cubs potentially acquiring Orioles' shortstop Manny Machado have intensifed recently. Regardless, Cubs president Theo Epstein made his point on the rumor frenzy quite clear Thursday.

"I can say with regards to this particular spasm of media frenzy, it is outrageously outsized when you compare it to the reality of the situation," Epstein said Thursday on 670 The Score.

Machado is having an unbelievable season with the Orioles, hitting .328 with 15 home runs and 43 RBIs entering Thursday. If traded, he would undoubtedly provide a boost to any ballclub, but that is a big "if."

Of course, the MLB season is not even two months old yet, which Epstein pointed out as being a big factor in the situation.

"It's May," he said. "We're still figuring out who we are as a team this year. We're still figuring out our place in the division.

"There's an atypical amount of trade discussion in May this year, which is essentially nil."

Rumors of the Cubs being a potential player in acquiring Machado make sense. At 15-34, the Orioles have the worst winning percentage (.306) in the MLB. With their current positioning, trading Machado could start a rebuild that the Orioles might just need. The Cubs have a 24-year-old shortstop in Addison Russell that the Orioles could acquire to a) replace Machado and b) use as the face of their rebuild.

Be that as it may, Epstein said the rumors are something that the Cubs are "just rolling our eyes at."

"I understand it's natural for people to connect the dots and there to be this kind of frenzy from time to time, but it's honestly something we're looking at and just rolling our eyes at," he said. "It's not like July, where every now and then there's lots of coverage on deals that are actually being discussed or actually might happen.

"This one is just out there in fantasy land at this point."

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

Albert Almora Jr. joins Kelly Crull on the Cubs Talk Podcast to weigh in on a variety of topics, including his budding bromance with rumored Cubs target Manny Machado, his expanded role and how he spends his time off away from the ballpark.

Plus, Almora has a surprise pick for the organization’s unsung hero, stating the Cubs would’ve never won the World Series without this guy.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: