Cubs know the best free agents are already off the board

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Cubs know the best free agents are already off the board

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. Imagine if the Cubs were staring at Cole Hamels and Matt Cain and wondering which one to build their rotation around.

Maybe Theo Epsteins front office would wait until after the 2013 season to grab the finishing piece to their lineup, a Joey Votto or a Ryan Zimmerman.

But when Cubs executives check into a resort here outside Palm Springs, Calif., for the general manager meetings that formally begin on Wednesday, they will know that the best players are already off the board.

The biggest challenge in free agency today is that all these guys are signing these contracts to lock them up, general manager Jed Hoyer said recently. You look at the free-agent list and so many of those guys are already in their 30s and thats the thing that we want to be really aware of not ending up with a bunch of decline years on our books because we were sort of eager to do something right now. The prime years usually start with a 2.

The Philadelphia Phillies have become another Northeast superpower, right there with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. With two World Series titles in the past three years, the San Francisco Giants are thinking dynasty.

Hamels and Cain never made it to free agency this winter. Combined, the Phillies and Giants committed some 270 million to two pitchers taken eight picks apart in the first round of the 2002 draft.

Seven months ago, the Cincinnati Reds found a way to give Votto a 10-year, 225 million extension, rewarding the National Leagues MVP in 2010. Back in spring training, the Washington Nationals made sure Zimmerman the face of the franchise will remain under club control through 2020.

Ryan Braun has already signed two extensions with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Pittsburgh Pirates control Andrew McCutchen through 2018. Epstein recognized this trend in Boston and extended Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

There are no signs of slowing down: Beginning in 2014, each team will receive an extra 25 million a year from the new national television deals.

When you look at the free-agent market, Hoyer said, theres a lot of teams that formerly were probably smaller markets that wouldnt have been able to sign their guys long-term that now have cable money or other sources of revenue that (enable them) to keep their guys.

We always do the exercise: You have your free-agent market going three, four years out. And its amazing to watch how that market sort of gets eroded as these guys get picked off on these long-term deals. It makes (it) more shallow this time of year.

Which makes you wonder how much will still be there by the time the Cubs cash in with a new television contract after their WGN deal expires at the end of the 2014 season.

The macroeconomics of baseball right now are interesting with some of these cable deals, Hoyer said. Its created some very big markets from what used to be just kind of large markets and its propped up some teams that used to flood the trade market and the free-agent market. Those teams are now holding onto their own players.

The macroeconomics of baseball are at an interesting point. Its hard to predict exactly what were going to be staring at in 2015.

By then, will the Cubs just be grabbing leftovers? This is a primary reason why the front office talks about building The Foundation for Sustained Success.

Executives here this week will have a chance to meet face-to-face and discuss potential trades. Agents will try to sell their clients to general managers and begin laying the groundwork for deals.

For 2013, the Cubs have around 40 million committed to just four players Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol, Starlin Castro and David DeJesus plus arbitration raises for Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija.

Thats close to a blank canvas, but as the Cubs evaluate their needs two starting pitchers, a third baseman, an outfielder, bullpen help they likely wont go beyond two or three years. They want to keep their options open.

We have pretty significant flexibility, Hoyer said. Were going to be aggressive in free agency, but we arent going to do things that we feel (will) limit us going forward where we feel were hindered by a certain contract.

Joe Maddon thinking shake-up for Cubs? ‘I have no idea what that would be’

Joe Maddon thinking shake-up for Cubs? ‘I have no idea what that would be’

SAN DIEGO – Joe Maddon looked down at the desk, shook his head and didn’t hesitate when asked if he was thinking about making some lineup changes to jolt the Cubs.

“I have no idea what that would be,” Maddon said after Monday’s 5-2 loss to the Padres at Petco Park. “We’ve tried everything possible. Guys have been rested. We’ve given guys days off. These are our players. I have all the faith in the world.”

The defending World Series champs are a .500 team through the Memorial Day checkpoint, but Maddon projected calm from the manager’s office to the cameras, expecting that message to filter out toward his clubhouse.

But this wasn’t the red-hot Dodgers pushing all the right bullpen buttons and executing a game plan almost flawlessly. The Cubs had Jarred Cosart on the ropes – and bases-loaded opportunities in the first, second and seventh innings – but still couldn’t deliver the knockout punch against a last-place team.

The Padres gave up 10 walks while the Cubs went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base.

“We came off a 7-2 homestand,” Maddon said. “Everybody loved us a couple days ago. Now all of a sudden, we’ve had a tough time scoring runs on the road. We just got to do better. That’s all this comes down to.”

[MORE CUBS: How Kris Bryant became the face of the never-panic Cubs]

Until Jason Heyward lined a 93-mph Cosart fastball into right field for a two-out, bases-loaded single and a 2-0 lead in the first inning, the middle of that homestand (May 21) had been the last time the Cubs scored without hitting a home run.

“Everybody’s proverbially trying way too hard,” Maddon said. “(Don’t) try to hit homers. Really, again, take what they give you. Play with the middle. You got to convince them to do it. They got to do it.

“It’s not complicated. You can see the big swings coming out of our zone when just a single would do. That’s it. We did it before. We can do it again. We just got to keep talking. But then you have to use the velvet hammer as opposed to a real one. Otherwise, you have no chance whatsoever.”

Preview: Cubs-Padres Tuesday on CSN+

Preview: Cubs-Padres Tuesday on CSN+

The Cubs take on the Padres on Tuesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN+ and live streaming on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 8:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

The starting pitching matchup: Eddie Butler (2-0, 1.93 ERA) vs. Dinelson Lamet (1-0. 1.80 ERA)

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