BALTIMORE — Are the Cubs working on another big deal?
“Ask wetbutt,” Theo Epstein said, crediting one of the Reddit users who scooped everyone this week on the blockbuster Jose Quintana trade between the Cubs and White Sox.
Looking relaxed and sounding upbeat after the All-Star break, the Cubs president showed up Friday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where he got his start in professional baseball as a summer intern in 1992, the same year this classic stadium opened in downtown Baltimore.
The kid from Yale University is now the future Hall of Fame executive who’s ended 194 years of championship droughts combined between the Cubs and Boston Red Sox. For all the speculation about where Fortune’s “World’s Greatest Leader” will pivot after baseball, Epstein wants to build a dynasty on the North Side and believes Quintana can help make that a reality.
No, the Cubs won’t stop looking to make deals when there are more than two weeks left until the July 31 trade deadline. But the latest Sonny Gray rumor sounds more like Epstein doing a favor for his buddy Billy Beane and trying to drive the price up for the Oakland A’s and maybe messing with the Milwaukee Brewers.
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The more relevant question for wetbutt23: Is it realistic to think the Cubs can land another frontline starter after Epstein just gave up his top two prospects (Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease) and doesn’t want to break up a World Series core?
“I don’t know,” Epstein said. “Right now, we’re taking a step back. Take a breath and kind of understand our roster and payroll dynamic looking forward now that we have Quintana in the fold. We’ll certainly still be active with phone calls, at least this month. And anything we might want to try to accomplish this winter — it’s good to take a look and see if we might be able to get a head start and do that now.
“We’re going to see how we play, too. It’s a really important two weeks. If we can get hot and start to play the way that we know we’re capable of, that probably puts us in a little bit more aggressive posture, trying to maximize all 25 spots on the roster and maybe even do some things just for this year. But if we don’t get hot, obviously, you have a little bit longer-term perspective.
“I like the look in the guys’ eyes. I think everyone’s refreshed and ready to put the first half behind us while still being accountable for it. We’re ready to move on and play better baseball.”
Whether or not the Cubs can close a 5.5-game deficit against Milwaukee and win a weak division, Quintana’s club-friendly contract creates some cost assurance and opens up even more possibilities for the future.
With the All-Star lefty guaranteed $8.85 million next season — and under team options for 2019 ($10.5 million) and 2020 ($11.5 million) — the Cubs could splurge on a Yu Darvish this winter, pounce on the monster free-agent class headlined by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado after the 2018 season and stay flexible if an international superstar like Shohei Otani becomes available.
“It’s really significant when you can acquire a really good player who’s got a very reasonable contract,” Epstein said. “You almost, in your head, start thinking of a slot being created for a second player, perhaps, in free agency that can come along with him that you can then afford because his contract is so manageable.
“You don’t look at it as if you’ve already acquired that player. But in your mind, understanding the limits of the CBT thresholds and everything else that you have to work within (the luxury tax), it really does create a ton of options.
“We’ll be able to pack more talent on the roster because of his contract. There’s no way around it.”