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.
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.
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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.”