SEATTLE – Theo Epstein had a good time hanging out here with his buddy Eddie Vedder. Could you think of a better Seattle tour guide than the Pearl Jam front man?
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The weekend ended on a good note, even with the Cubs nearly blowing a six-run lead on Sunday before hanging on for a 7-6 victory over the Mariners in front of 24,701 fans at Safeco Field.
But the real action is just beginning for the Cubs president, whose cell phone should be blowing up all week back in Chicago. For now, ignore all the breathless, tick-tock updates on Twitter. It’s impossible to sell high on Matt Garza on July 1, with a whole month to play out before the trade deadline.
“You can’t believe (everything),” Epstein said. “This time of year, people who are speculating about those trades are people from other teams.”
But Epstein did acknowledge there’s a good chance the front office could start moving pieces before the All-Star break.
“I would say judging by the amount of calls that are going on,” Epstein said, “and the number of pieces that we potentially have available, and the unique opportunities that might present themselves for us to get better, yeah, that’s (conceivable).”
Contenders view Garza as a big-game pitcher who could take the ball in the World Series. Garza remains Epstein’s biggest trade chip, while Scott Feldman could help out the back end of the rotation for a team in the race.
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With 40 percent of the rotation on the trading block, the biggest free agent signed so far by the Epstein administration will have to raise his game. Edwin Jackson made it through six innings on Sunday, giving up three runs to the Mariners (35-47) and improving his overall record to 4-10 with a 5.75 ERA.
That’s not the return the Cubs were looking for on their $52 million investment.
“It hasn’t really been quite how I planned it,” Jackson said. “But it’s a marathon, not a race. We still have a lot of baseball left and I still feel confident in myself that I can go out and give our team a chance to win.
“You look at every great pitcher – they’ve had their ups and downs. (They’re) the ones who can come back from it.”
Kevin Gregg rebooted his career after getting released by the Los Angeles Dodgers in April and coming back to the Cubs. The day after blowing his first save this season, he pitched a scoreless ninth inning. While he wouldn’t necessarily close for a contending team, he would be a nice bullpen piece for the stretch run (1.65 ERA with 13 saves in 14 chances).
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Almost halfway through the season, the Cubs are 35-45 and have no conflicting feelings about what to do at the trade deadline.
They will be monitoring Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, and checking the price on the 26-year-old Cuban pitcher once he’s cleared to sign by the U.S. government. They don’t have to talk to Alfonso Soriano about reduced playing time yet with two outfielders (David DeJesus and Ryan Sweeney) injured.
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Year 2 of this rebuilding project will continue to be all about finding long-term pieces and getting rid of short-term assets.
Epstein firmly believes in Dale Sveum, even with blame shifting toward the manager, whose approval ratings seem to have fallen, judging by the Carlos Marmol reactions on Twitter and the backlash from certain corners of the media.
“Managers often times take heat for things that are beyond their control,” Epstein said. “We’ve given him an imperfect roster. That’s just the reality. (So) he’s often times put in situations where he’s got to choose between imperfect solutions.
“I’m sure he didn’t want to necessarily use Marmol in certain high-level situations. But there comes a point where other guys need rest or have already been used or he’s got to look a day ahead and he has more information than you guys have.
“It’s unfair with only partial information to jump to conclusions about Dale’s managerial abilities just based on using Marmol in a certain spot here and there. Dale’s steady at the helm of the ship.”
That’s why the heat should be on Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and the entire front office across the next month. It’s time to start making deals.