Theo doesnt expect blockbuster trade

906891.png

Theo doesnt expect blockbuster trade

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- The names are going to be passed around the Hyatt Regency lobby, hallways and hotel bar and blasted out from here onto Twitter.

Justin Upton? Chase Headley? Felix Hernandez? Dont look for the Cubs to be a Mystery Team.

As expected, Day 1 of the general manager meetings brought way more speculation than actual news. But as the trade rumors heat up, the Cubs will probably be sitting on the sidelines.

The Cubs arent looking to package prospects to get a difference-maker, like they once did for Matt Garza. They missed an opportunity when the Carlos Marmol-for-Dan Haren deal with the Los Angeles Angels collapsed late last week. They dont have a surplus of talent in one particular area. They dont expect to be part of any blockbusters.

Kaplan: Medical concerns killed Marmol-Haren deal with Angels

Well try to identify possible trade fits, team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday. But I dont think its the type of offseason where we have potential fits with 25 of the 29 other clubs. Well pursue everything, but realistically I think our fits might be narrower this year. Well try to use that as a strength, turn it into an advantage and focus on the free-agent market.

Were going to have a pretty well-defined trade market really quickly, because we dont have unlimited assets to deal. We dont necessarily have redundancies at positions in the big leagues or at the upper levels.

The Cubs could have interest again in Haren if he somehow fell to them at their price, but they are looking at other options to fill the two spots in their rotation.

Trying to stamp out the injury speculation, Harens agent, Greg Landry, told reporters that his client is healthy after going on the disabled list for the first time in his career with a back issue last season. Haren felt good enough to make 30 starts for the Angels, who bought him out for 3.5 million rather than pick up a 15.5 million option.

To close the Haren deal, the Cubs were said to be ready to chip in around 3-plus million, or less than half of Marmols 9.8 million salary in the final year of his contract. They viewed Haren as a more attractive trade chip if the 2013 season goes south.

Marmol has limited no-trade protection and told at least one outlet back home in the Dominican Republic that he had agreed to go to Anaheim. That caught fire on Twitter while the Angels faced last Fridays deadline to make a decision on Haren.

We never had a done deal, general manager Jed Hoyer said. To me, thats every part of the deal is done -- you send out a press release and obviously we never got to that point.

With Carlos, we got to the point where we were close enough and we needed to go to him and ask if hed waive his no-trade to the Angels. Once we involved the player, it leaked out and then everyone ran with it like it was a done deal. It was unfortunate. It was a miscommunication.

Carlos just ran with it that he had been traded, even though the deal wasnt complete. I guess thats one of the negatives of no-trade clauses. You start involving external entities when youre trying to finalize a trade and thats not the best thing in the world for keeping stuff quiet.

The Cubs have spoken with Marmol and will be better prepared the next time they bring something to their closer.

I think if I had to word it (again), it would be a little different, Hoyer said. Some of that blame might be ours, that we should have made it more clear to him: Hey, listen, hold tight, this is a theoretical. Would you do this? As opposed to: Its a done deal. So maybe we deserve some blame for that.

Thats what sort of started The Frenzy.

Marmol has shown signs of being a dominant closer again (1.52 ERA, 12-for-13 in save chances after the All-Star break). He regained a feel for his slider and trusted his fastball, which ticked back up to 94 mph.

But Marmol is still a short-term asset on a team looking at roughly a five-year window. So is Garza, though the Cubs wouldnt even consider trading him until he proves his right elbow is healthy.

Look for the Cubs to load up on some mid-range free agents, signing two starting pitchers and reconstructing their bullpen, trying to put a decent product on the field and avoid becoming big sellers again at the next trade deadline.

Jon Lester thinks Cubs have a special player in Willson Contreras: ‘It’s about time we got an offensive catcher’

Jon Lester thinks Cubs have a special player in Willson Contreras: ‘It’s about time we got an offensive catcher’

MESA, Ariz. – Jon Lester couldn't resist when a reporter mentioned the two home runs Willson Contreras launched off Danny Salazar, an All-Star talent who might have changed last year's World Series if he had been at full strength.

"It's about time we got an offensive catcher," Lester said.

Zing! Lester had already seen David Ross on "Dancing with the Stars" by the time he finished up against the Cleveland Indians and met with reporters on Monday night at Goodyear Ballpark. While Lester knew Grandpa Rossy would appreciate that one-liner, there is also some truth behind it.

Yes, Ross became the security blanket for a $155 million pitcher, helped push and encourage young players like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and got carried off the field after delivering his own Game 7 homer. But whatever Contreras may lack now in game-calling experience and pitcher psychology, he can make up for it with his rocket arm, smooth swing and willingness to learn.

A camp that began with questions about how Lester would work with Contreras ended with a sincere endorsement.

"Willie's obviously very special, to be serious about it," Lester said. "He's definitely going to add a presence to that lineup as far as protecting ‘Rizz' and ‘KB' to where they're not going to be able to just pitch around those guys. We're going to have some other guys to do some damage in the middle to the bottom of that order.

"He's a special kid, just like anybody else on this team. He's (24), so he'll only get better as time goes on and (he gets) the at-bats and the innings and all that stuff. So I'm excited to see him for a full season and how well he can do back there."

[Buy Cubs tickets right here]

That's another reason why the defending World Series champs might actually look better on paper than the unforgettable 2016 Cubs. Ross did a "Dancing with the Stars" routine based off Young MC's "Bust a Move," a song released in 1989, or years before Bryant, Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Albert Almora Jr. were born.

Before the Cubs packed up and left Arizona, Ross made a promotional appearance in Mesa this week and caught up with some old friends like John Lackey.

"We got rid of Rossy," Lackey told reporters as the Cubs finished their Cactus League schedule with Wednesday's 15-11 win over the Oakland A's at Sloan Park. "He stinks. And we should be better. Actually, I was just inside talking to Rossy and he said that, so that's from him."

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

MESA, Ariz. – One minute into the media scrum outside the West Wing, a Washington reporter asked Theo Epstein if this season would be considered a disappointment if the Cubs don't win the World Series.

"Oof, I hadn't thought too much about 2017 yet today," Epstein said after President Barack Obama's final official White House event. "But, yeah, I mean, that's our goal. I think the organization has come such a long way and we have this talented young core. We're clearly in a very competitive phase where I think if we do our jobs, we could be as good, if not better, than any team in baseball.

"So if you're going to compete, you set your sights for the world championship. It doesn't always work out that way. But we see it as our jobs to do everything we can to be back at the White House next year."

Whether or not Epstein would actually go through with a Donald Trump photo op is a different story. But with the Cubs signaling their Opening Night roster – keeping outfielder Matt Szczur and infielder Tommy La Stella while lefty reliever Brian Duensing begins the season on the disabled list – you could make the case that the team breaking camp on Wednesday looks better on paper than last year's World Series winner.

"This is a crazy talented group," All-Star closer Wade Davis said. "There's 10 or 12 players on this team that are some of the best players in baseball."

That doesn't mean the Cubs will develop the same chemistry or sense of purpose, but this team is completely used to the national spotlight, hanging out with celebrity fans and being followed around like rock stars on the road. 

Epstein compared this camp in Arizona with what the Boston Red Sox faced after ending the 86-year drought. 

"I will never forget in '05 spring training, we had 5,000 people the first day, 3,000 fans every day," Epstein said. "I was expecting it to be as nuts. But it's been refreshingly normal, reflecting the personality of our players, taking everything in stride."   

This doesn't mean the Cubs will stay as healthy as they did last year, when the projected rotation made 152 starts combined. But four-fifths of that group returns with Brett Anderson – given his natural ability, pitching IQ and extensive medical file – appearing to have a higher ceiling and lower floor than Jason Hammel.

As Anderson said: "It's not too often that you have a salty veteran with multiple rings (John Lackey) in front of you and a guy (Kyle Hendricks) that led the league in ERA behind you."

The 2016 Cubs won 103 games and scored 800-plus runs: without Kyle Schwarber contributing a single hit during the regular season; and with Jason Heyward finishing with a .631 OPS (or 103 points below the league average).

Manager Joe Maddon said Geek Department projections have this lineup generating even more offense with Schwarber as the new leadoff guy (even with a brace on his left leg), continued growth from young players like Addison Russell and Willson Contreras and Heyward not being one of the worst hitters in the majors.

[Buy Cubs tickets right here]

The Cubs are also counting on a full season from Davis, instead of a half-season rental like Aroldis Chapman. Where last year's Opening Night bullpen featured three guys who would get DFA'd or traded by midseason (Neil Ramirez, Clayton Richard, Adam Warren), this version features three guys who've already notched the final out in a World Series (Davis, Koji Uehara, Mike Montgomery).

"All the additions are wonderful complements to what this team was already," Schwarber said. "Upgrades. It's going to be really cool to see how it all plays out this season with more guys getting another year of experience under their belt."

Ian Happ raising his profile and hitting around .400 in the Cactus League should help his trade value if the Cubs need to deal for pitching at the trade deadline. The combination of Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in center field should be an improvement over Dexter Fowler for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency last year.

As someone with fresh eyes – and the perspective from being on Los Angeles Dodgers teams that won back-to-back National League West titles – Anderson hasn't see any signs of complacency.

"Not at all," Anderson said. "The young guys are still hungry. And the handful of guys that weren't here last year makes you that much more hungry and itchy to get back where they were last year.

"It's a really good mix – if not a perfect mix – of young guys, veteran guys and a couple fresh faces that are eager to get back to what these guys accomplished last year."