You’ve heard by now that the Cubs didn’t exactly turn in an active offseason. Despite entering the winter with talk of change, the club largely picked around the edges and ended up sticking with its existing veterans.
That doesn’t mean the status quo will hold indefinitely. If anything, it seems the pressure will be applied right out of the gates to a roster now overseen by rookie skipper David Ross. As Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein made clear he’s ready to act at the trade deadline if things don’t go as hoped.
Epstein says the Cubs will “have to be very objective about what we have” during the summer trade period. That’s always the case, to some degree, but it certainly sounds as if the Chicago organization will be applying a rather stringent standard to its buy/sell analysis come July.
“In the middle of this season, if we have a legit World Series contender, that is really meaningful,” said Epstein. “But if we don’t, you can’t be blind to the realities of the following 18 months.”
You need not read through the lines too finely to get the gist. The Cubs are looking at a two-year window on some key players. They’re not interested in waiting until there’s just one season of control left before selling.
Clearly, the hope had been to strike a deal in the just-completed offseason. The team wasn’t able to find a sensible arrangement, but could be more aggressive in shopping players this summer if it’s not in the position it hopes for.
Most interesting of all may be Epstein’s framing of the choice. The standard he poses — “legit World Series contender” — is a fairly lofty one.
What if the Cubs are in a competitive postseason position, but don’t quite seem primed for a serious run at a championship? That’s not clear just yet — and will surely be the subject of close analysis by the organization. But Epstein’s comments make clear, at minimum, that the team has already contemplated scenarios in which it’d engage in a mid-season sell-off of some kind.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the club is pressed up to the competitive balance tax line. It was already fair to wonder, on the heels of a winter of austerity, whether the team would stretch its internal payroll for mid-season additions unless it found itself in a truly compelling position.