The winter meetings are three weeks away and Jeff Samardzija has already been linked to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Washington Nationals, Toronto Blue Jays and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Yes, the Cubs are open for business, with a front office that believes no one is untouchable, a Wrigley Field renovation plan that keeps getting pushed back and a staggered television portfolio that won’t generate one huge windfall.
That was the sense inside the bubble of the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes, where general managers gathered for annual meetings this week. While sources say the Cubs won’t be major players for the big free agents this winter – even doing another Edwin Jackson-type contract (four years, $52 million) is in doubt – they are still positioned to make deals.
“You try to explore every avenue to get better,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Trades are a part of it. You always want to discuss it with different teams. You really want to hear what teams’ needs are once they get their budgets (and know) which teams are going to be aggressive and which aren’t. You get a better feel for that now than you did on the phone during the World Series.”
That means exploring deals headlined by Samardzija, an Opening Day starter who’s under club control for two more seasons and checks all the boxes with his size, stuff and personality.
Maybe Jackson’s frontloaded contract – now three years, $33 million – could look reasonable and even get moved in an overheated market where a pitcher like Ervin Santana is reportedly asking for five years, $112 million.
But it doesn’t sound like president of baseball operations Theo Epstein is willing to tear apart a farm system that tied for fifth in Baseball America’s recent rankings.
Where the Cubs had internally viewed 2015 as a breakthrough year last winter, now they are focusing more on 2016 in the big picture.
Realistically, the cost of shipping elite prospects to the Miami Marlins or Tampa Bay Rays – and then giving Giancarlo Stanton or David Price a huge extension – would be too high.
“In our situation – where we have to make every asset count and every dollar count – we don't want to get in our own way with our development plan,” Epstein said. “The possibility of trading significant assets so you can then acquire someone and then reward him with a nine-figure contract is not as appealing as keeping your core prospects if they’re guys you really believe in.
“At the right time, (you add) that impact piece from the outside and then you have the best of both worlds. That said, we’re going to pursue trades for some of the very best players in the game because you never know what you might be able to come up with.
“Not every prospect pans out. Not every impact player available in a trade remains an impact player. (So) we’ll just balance all the factors and be aggressive in the trade market, exploring deals. Whether any come to fruition or not, I can’t tell you."
Nate Schierholtz – who was linked to the Diamondbacks this week – could be another trade chip. When he signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal last December, he turned down multi-year offers and drew interest from several teams, including the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The Pittsburgh Pirates tracked him leading up to the trade deadline last July.
Schierholtz put up 21 homers and 68 RBI in 462 at-bats last season, though he faded after the All-Star break (.703 OPS) and struggled against lefties (.170 average). He’s arbitration-eligible for one more season and will be 30 years old in spring training. He’s a left-handed bat, a solid defender and a professional who won two World Series rings as an extra outfielder for the San Francisco Giants.
“We were proud of Nate,” Hoyer said. “He was a guy that was non-tendered that we signed. He really liked our opportunity (and) a lot of people asked about him in-season and we chose to hold onto him. That interest remains. But give him a lot of credit. I think he proved to a lot of people that he’s an everyday player."
Hoyer and Epstein kept a low profile this week at the GM meetings. But things might not be so quiet when they return to Central Florida in December and set up shop at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. The Cubs will be looking to deal.