Theo Epstein has now run Cubs baseball operations for four seasons, and I salute him for putting together the best Cubs team in years for 2015. That team thrilled us all summer, only to fall short of its ultimate goal in its NLCS loss this week.
Thursday, Theo met the media to wrap up 2015 and talk about 2016 and what the team will need to go past the LCS round into the World Series, and win it. I know this was discussed here during the day Thursday but I wanted to present it on the front page and talk about the key points Theo raised regarding next season and give my thoughts on them. Then you can add yours, of course.
The Mets beat the Cubs with pitching and Theo acknowledges the Cubs need to add a "quality" starting pitcher:
"We would like to add more quality pitching. … We need more pitching, that’s obvious." He would go on to point out that the team’s rotation and pitching staff as a whole ranked third in ERA, first in FIP and first in wins above replacement. Epstein called the free agent market for pitching a "necessary evil" but stopped short of definitively stating that would be the route the club goes this winter. "…whether it’s through trade or free agency, we would like to add at least one quality starting pitcher this winter."
You're probably going to immediately think: David Price, Zack Greinke or Jordan Zimmermann. Those are the three top starters who will be on the market this winter. However, as the MLBTR link above notes:
Epstein did also acknowledge, however, that the arbitration salaries facing the team will limit some of the resources. MLBTR projects the Cubs’ nine arb-eligible players to combine for $33.4MM in salaries (Arrieta’s $10.6MM projection accounts for nearly one-third of that sum), though obviously some of those players could be non-tendered or traded.
All three of those top starters are likely to get contracts well north of the $155 million total given to Jon Lester last winter, and probably even more than the $210 million pocketed by Max Scherzer, the most money received by any of the 2014-15 free agents. It's worth asking whether you, the fan and BCB reader, want to tie up $30 million or more per season in one starting pitcher, or perhaps save some of that money and sign a "lesser" starter (or trade for one) who would still improve the rotation. I'd probably go with the latter, although it should be noted that Price pitched for Joe Maddon in Tampa for six and a half seasons and he has made comments that allude that he'd love to play for the Cubs.
Then there's Dexter Fowler's status. Bruce Levine quotes Theo:
"Dexter Fowler had an unbelievable year," Epstein said Thursday at his season-ending press conference. "He fit in tremendously well in this organization, and I think really highly of him as a player and a person, as do we all, frankly. He made a wonderful impression. He’s a free agent. He’s earned that status. It’s not something I take lightly. "We’ll see what the future holds. Certainly, there’s an interest in sitting down at the appropriate time with Dexter and his agent … and seeing if there’s a way to keep him a Chicago Cub. Because he made a big impact on the field and off, and we love having him around."
Levine writes, and I agree, that Fowler will certainly be given a qualifying offer (that's about $16 million this offseason), which he will almost certainly reject in order to get a longer-term deal, either with the Cubs or somewhere else.
I'd certainly be willing to commit some money for two or possibly three years for Fowler, but the Cubs might not have enough per-year budget room for him. Two years, $28 million, with a third-year option. Would that be enough?
Regarding Kyle Schwarber, Mark Gonzales writes in the Tribune that his future position(s) are still TBD:
With his lack of major-league experience at catcher and his recent woes in left field, Kyle Schwarber will be diligent in working on his defense entering the 2016 season. "We're not good enough to forecast how his career is going to go defensively," President Theo Epstein said Thursday. "What position he will play, keeping all the options open makes sense as long as we're not getting in the way of his development, his ability to stay in the lineup and his long-term health." Schwarber, 22, advanced to the majors sooner than anticipated because of his hitting. That stunted his development as a catcher. Schwarber played left field adequately until the final two games of the National League Championship Series, but the Cubs already had planned to have him work with catching coach Mike Borzello next spring. "Until we reach a point where we think it's not the right path, we're going to continue to expose him to both (positions)," Epstein said.
As Gonzales notes, Schwarber had some muffs and mistakes in left field during the NLCS that made him appear to be inadequate out there, but those were magnified on a national scale. Those of us who watched Schwarber play 43 games in left field (and four in right!) during the regular season know that he can play outfield well enough at the big-league level, though that's not to say that he can't use some more work out there.
Can he be a big-league catcher? I'd say yes, especially given his bat, and the work he'll put in next spring will certainly help.
Back to the MLBTR link, Theo had this to say about the possibility of locking up Jake Arrieta, who is under team control for the next two seasons, in a long-term deal:
"I’m sure there will come a time where we approach Jake and his agent, Scott Boras, about seeing if we can extend that window. … More than anything, we’re just appreciative of the person he is and the year that he had, and what, at the very least, the next two seasons in a Cub uniform look like for him."
As noted above, Arrieta's 2016 arbitration figure is about three times his 2015 salary. The Cubs could potentially agree to pay Arrieta more than that for 2016 as part of a multi-year, longer-term deal. The caveat: Jake turns 30 in March. He's thrown more innings this year than he ever has in any one season. I'm not saying he's an injury waiting to happen, and I'd certainly hope that's not the case, but the Cubs have him through 2017 regardless. So Theo's statement is exactly correct. We'll see what happens.
This year's coaching staff did a good job. They could all be back in 2016:
Theo says all the coaches have been invited back— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) October 22, 2015
It is, of course, possible that some of them could get offers elsewhere, particularly bench coach Dave Martinez, who has interviewed for managerial jobs before. On the other hand, Maddon made a particular point of bringing Martinez to the Cubs and I'd think would be a strong advocate for him to stay. That might mean more money.
Finally, there's the question of a contract extension for Theo:
"That's not anywhere near the top of the list of priorities this winter," Epstein said. "I'm sure this winter, at some point, we'll talk not just about me but about a lot of the guys in the front office who contribute behind the scenes and make sure this group can stay together for a while and finish what we started."
I'd be in favor of that. This group has brought us close to the Promised Land. I'd like to see them finish the job. Theo's deal expires after the 2016 season. His current contract pays him about $3.5 million a year. I'd think that would have to be doubled to retain his services -- that's what Andrew Friedman got from the Dodgers last offseason (five years, $35 million).
I'm sure you have thoughts on these Cub needs, and others. Your turn.