Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein addressed the Chicago media today, one day after his team’s season came to an end at the hands of the National League Champion Mets. Some highlights from Epstein’s media session, courtesy of Carrie Muskat of MLB.com and Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune…
- Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the press conference was Epstein definitively stating, “We would like to add more quality pitching. … We need more pitching, that’s obvious.” He would go on (as can be seen in this video link from Gonzales) to point out that the team’s rotation and pitching staff as a whole ranked third in ERA, first in FIP and first in wins above replacement. Epstein called the free agent market for pitching a “necessary evil” but stopped short of definitively stating that would be the route the club goes this winter. “…whether it’s through trade or free agency, we would like to add at least one quality starting pitcher this winter.” Not only will the team focus on adding to the pitching staff, though, they’ll also focus on improving their pitchers’ abilities to hold runners on base. The Mets exposed that flaw significantly in the NLCS, as Gonzales points out in the second of his two above-linked columns.
- Epstein said that the Cubs “certainly” have interest in re-signing Dexter Fowler as a free agent, as the Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan tweets. “[Fowler] made a big impact on the field and off,” Epstein said of Dexter (MLB.com video link), “and we love having him around.” Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com has more of Epstein’s comments on Fowler and notes that the Cubs are expected to make a qualifying offer to Fowler, though he’ll assuredly reject that and test the open market.
- The Cubs would be “foolish” not to pursue a long-term deal with Jake Arrieta this offseason, Epstein said. “I’m sure there will come a time where we approach Jake and his agent, Scott Boras, about seeing if we can extend that window. … More than anything, we’re just appreciative of the person he is and the year that he had, and what, at the very least, the next two seasons in a Cub uniform look like for him.” Arrieta is controllable through arbitration for two more seasons, and while extensions for Boras clients that are so close to free agency are rare, but the Cubs do have a new TV deal coming in the near future, which can’t hurt their cause in trying to lock up one of the game’s best pitchers.
- Epstein briefly acknowledged that the TV deal will give the team some additional flexibility down the line, though he didn’t get into specifics. “The 2016 payroll is not going to be as big as the 2020 payroll because of the TV deal, but what we accomplished this year should help,” he said in reference to the added revenue from the team’s NLCS run. “We’ll have an aggressive mindset.” Epstein did also acknowledge, however, that the arbitration salaries facing the team will limit some of the resources. MLBTR projects the Cubs’ nine arb-eligible players to combine for $33.4MM in salaries (Arrieta’s $10.6MM projection accounts for nearly one-third of that sum), though obviously some of those players could be non-tendered or traded.
- The Cubs won’t yet forecast how Kyle Schwarber’s defensive career will play out, Epstein said (via Gonzales). Schwarber will continue to work out as a catcher next spring, putting in extra time with catching coach Mike Borzello. Chicago will continue to allow Schwarber to work out behind the plate and in the outfield “until we reach a point where we think it’s not the right path,” Epstein said.
- Epstein also noted that despite a rocky second half and postseason, Jason Hammel will return as an important piece of the 2016 rotation. The organization is confident that he can be the pitcher he was in the first half of the 2015 season once again.
- Gonzales tweets that Epstein also offered praise for Starlin Castro and the manner in which he handled his initial benching and eventual shift to second base as well as the way in which he rebounded at the plate late in the regular season and into the playoffs.
- The entire coaching staff has been invited back for the 2016 season, as ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers tweets.
- Asked about a new contract for himself — Epstein’s current deal runs through 2016 — Epstein downplayed that as a priority (via Muskat’s second piece above), saying it’s “not anywhere near” a top priority this winter. He also emphasized that the same conversation must be had with a good deal of the front office: “I’m sure this winter, at some point, we’ll talk not just about me but about a lot of the guys in the front office who contribute behind the scenes and make sure this group can stay together for a while and finish what we started.”