NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Cubs aren’t stopping with Ben Zobrist’s $56 million contract and the Starlin Castro trade to the New York Yankees, still seeing the potential for more big deals if the dominos fall their way again.
Getting Joe Maddon’s super-utility guy doesn’t really change how the Cubs see Jason Heyward as a great long-term piece for their outfield, and dealing Castro doesn’t necessarily eliminate any trade possibilities.
“We’d welcome an impact move if it’s out there,” team president Theo Epstein said Tuesday night at the winter meetings. “But, really, all the moves that we have been pursuing previously are still potentially alive for us. Starlin hadn’t been in any other talks. This was the one place that potentially had a match for him.”
The Cubs can still go in several different directions as they search for someone to play center, whether it’s a defense-first outfielder who bats ninth, a platoon setup that saves resources for the trade deadline or a big fish like Heyward, who fits the franchise’s long-range business/baseball plans as a 26-year-old free agent.
Beyond the potential to weaken the St. Louis Cardinals by stealing Heyward, the Cubs also understand next winter’s free-agent class isn’t nearly as deep, so they might have to load up on talent this offseason.
“We spent a lot of time with the business side several weeks ago,” Epstein said. “There are some different levers that were in play to pull. And they did a fantastic job of giving us a little bit more flexibility than we had. And there are other ways to get creative just in the structure of your contract.”
Zobrist’s four-year deal includes a $2 million signing bonus for 2015 and breaks down annually like this through 2019: $10 million; $16 million; $16 million; $12 million.
The Cubs also got ahead of the curve last week with John Lackey’s two-year, $32 million contract, signing the veteran pitcher before the Arizona Diamondbacks guaranteed Zack Greinke $206.5 million and gave up No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson in the Shelby Miller deal with the Atlanta Braves.
Lackey gets a $7 million signing bonus, with $2 million paid in 2015 and $5 million earmarked for 2017, making it a $12.5-million hit for next season.
“I do think with an open mind,” Epstein said, “and with a willing partner on the business side and support of ownership, we’ve had more options open to us than maybe we imagined when the season ended.”
Adam Warren isn’t the headliner in the Castro deal, but the Cubs feel so much better about their fragile pitching situation with a talented swingman they believe will pitch even better in the National League Central.
Warren is 28 years old and under club control for three more seasons. As soon as the Castro news broke, the Cubs got calls from other teams that also see Warren as a starter. Warren appeared in 43 games and made 17 starts for the Yankees last season, going 7-7 with a 3.29 ERA across 131-plus innings.
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The Cubs have locked up another low-risk, high-reward swingman in Trevor Cahill with a one-year, $4.25 million contract. Making those types of under-the-radar moves – without trading Jorge Soler or Javier Baez or mortgaging the farm system – allows the Cubs to keep thinking big.
“We can continue to listen to anything that comes our way,” Epstein said. “We still have a little bit of a potential surplus with our position-player group and we haven’t moved any of our emerging players yet in any deals.
“But we don’t have to act out of need or desperation. We can be pretty selective.”
Either way, the Cubs will check out of the Opryland on Thursday and leave Nashville, Tennessee, feeling like they’ve put together some huge pieces to their offseason puzzle.