The Cubs, as expected, have not been big players in the trade or
free-agent fields this winter. Epstein said that's all by design and
that he understands the fans' frustration.
"We feel the same frustration," he said. "But I think I'd be really
compromising the organization if we decided just because we were
frustrated and people around us were frustrated that we would scrap
the plan and try to add some things cosmetically to make it look
better than it really is.
"There's a really high bar we're aiming for and we know we're going
to get there and it's going to be sustainable."
The Cubs entered and exited the winter meetings quietly, but that
doesn't mean they weren't active. They made a relatively minor trade
on the meeting's final day, swapping left-handed hitting outfielder
Brian Bogusevic for right-handed hitting outfielder Justin Ruggiano
with the Marlins.
That came one day after Epstein fielding questions about yet another
day of inactivity.
"We're not just hanging out at the old Dolphin," quipped Epstein,
referring to the hotel that hosted the winter meetings.
Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer remain in search of a starting
pitcher, another bullpen arm and some outfield depth.
Even though the Cubs are a major-market team, finances have been
somewhat constricted, and the brass is waiting for players in the
highly touted farm system to begin bubbling to the top, perhaps as
early as this coming season.
Until then, Epstein and Co. will search for some bargains, a process
that could last well into January.
RHP Liam Hendriks, designated for assignment by the Twins on Dec.
5, was claimed off waivers by the Cubs on Dec. 13. The signings of
RHPs Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes made Hendiks expendable in
Minnesota. Hendriks, 24, made 10 appearances (eight starts) last
season with the Twins, going 1-3 with a 6.85 ERA.
RHP Jeff Samardzija has been the subject of much trade
speculation, but team president Theo Epstein said at the winter
meetings that Samardzija is the Cubs' Opening Day starter as of now.
Samardzija, who turns 29 in January, cannot become a free agent
until after the 2015 season, but the Cubs have not been able to come
to terms on a contract extension. "Every time we meet with
(Samardzija's agent, Mark Rodgers), I feel great about the
relationship and the relationship with Jeff, too," Epstein said.
"Talks are amicable, open. We're transparent about the situation and
our interests, and he's transparent about Jeff's desires and
SS Starlin Castro is a possibility for the leadoff spot in 2014,
according to new manager Rick Renteria. The Cubs were without a true
leadoff man after the Aug. 19 trade of OF David DeJesus to
Washington. Castro had a down year in 2013, and his on-base
percentage was only .284, far from ideal for a leadoff man. "I know
over the course of his career, (Castro) has led off quite a bit and
has some significantly decent numbers in that spot," Renteria said
"But as we continue to put together the club and see matchups and
things of that nature as the season progresses, we'll see where we
C George Kottaras was obtained in a trade with the Kansas City
Royals. The Cubs expect the 30-year-old Kottaras to back up C
Welington Castillo. Dioner Navarro served that role well in 2013,
batting .300 and winning rave reviews for his handling of the
pitching staff. But Navarro was likely going to be too expensive for
the Cubs, and he wound up signing with Toronto.
RHP Kyuji Fujikawa continues his rehab from Tommy John surgery
performed last June. He's not expected to open the 2014 season on
the active roster, but the Cubs say they feel he is progressing.
"He's doing better, obviously," said manager Rick Renteria. "He's
doing well. Obviously he's on our roster and expected to keep moving
along. So we'll see where he's at."
LHP Wesley Wright and the Cubs were close to finalizing a
free-agent contract after Wright was non-tendered by the Rays. The
Cubs want another lefty in the pen to take some of the load off LHP
James Russell, who appeared in 74 games this year after working in
77 in 2012. Russell showed signs of fatigue as the season wore on,
and he struggled from time to time.
OF Justin Ruggiano, obtained at the end of the winter meetings in
a trade with Miami for OF Brian Bogusevic, gives the Cubs a
right-handed bat in the outfield. Nate Schierholtz and Ryan Sweeney
are left-handed hitters, as is Bogusevic. Ruggiano, who hit 18
homers in 2013 for the Marlins, joins Junior Lake as right-handed
hitting outfielders for the Cubs.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're on our way there, but we're not there yet." — Cubs president Theo Epstein on the Cubs being big-splash players in
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The Cubs managed to avoid a 100-loss season, but they limped to
the finish with a 9-18 record in September. There was some
fraying around the edges as far as discontent goes. Pitchers
Edwin Jackson and Jeff Samardzija were involved in dugout
dustups with former manager Dale Sveum and third base coach
David Bell, respectively. Closer Kevin Gregg also expressed
frustration about possibly losing his job to Pedro Strop but
later apologized for a "misunderstanding." Team president Theo
Epstein said the incidents were understandable, in part, because
of the competitive nature of the players at the end of another
BIGGEST NEEDS: The Cubs need to do something to aid the offense.
They did hit home runs, but getting on base and walking again
were challenges for this club, despite the front office's
emphasis on these areas. The Cubs are banking on their "core"
players, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin
Castro, rebounding from years in which they regressed. That must
happen for the Cubs to do better next season.
With little money to spend on big-name free agents, team
president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer will have to be creative
in finding value in mid-level offensive players, such as they
did with RF Nate Schierholtz last offseason. The Cubs have a
decent top three of their starting rotation with LHP Travis Wood
and RHPs Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson. They will need to
add one veteran starter, as they did last year with RHP Scott
Feldman (whom they traded in July) to add experience to the back
of the rotation.
ARRIVALS: C George Kottaras (trade with Royals), OF Justin
Ruggiano (trade with Marlins), RHP Liam Hendriks (waiver claim
DEPARTURES: C Dioner Navarro (free agent, signed with Blue
Jays), OF Brian Bogusevic (traded to Marlins)
FREE AGENTS: RHP Kevin Gregg, RHP Scott Baker, RHP Matt
Guerrier, RHP Daniel Bard, 1B Mat Gamel, RHP Chang-Yong Lim
Gregg is likely a goner, and Baker would have to give the Cubs
some sort of "hometown discount" after he essentially used the
entire season to rehab for $5.5 million. Guerrier missed the
last seven weeks of the season due to an elbow injury.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: 2B Darwin Barney, LHP James Russell, LHP
Travis Wood, RHP Jeff Samardzija, INF Luis Valbuena, OF Nate
Schierholtz, RHP Pedro Strop
There are several valuable pieces here, led by Wood and
Schierholtz. The Cubs may try to strike long-term deals with
both Wood and Samardzija. Schierholtz will be a free agent after
next season, but he picked a good time to have a career year in
2013. Strop is a potential closer of the future. The Cubs like
Valbuena for his left-handed bat and versatility.
IN LIMBO: OF Brett Jackson and 3B/OF Josh Vitters have been
major disappointments who spent the entire year in the minor
leagues after making their big league debuts in 2012 and largely
failing. Both of these former No. 1 draft picks are expected to
remain with the organization, but they are on notice that they
are on their last chances. Vitters will be converted to the
outfield in spring training.
C Welington Castillo (right knee surgery in November 2013) is
expected to be 100 percent by spring training.
RHP Matt Guerrier (strained flexor mass in right elbow) missed
the season's final seven weeks. The Cubs don't think he'll have
to undergo Tommy John surgery, which could knock him out for up
to 12 months. Guerrier and the Cubs might both be interested in
the pitcher signing a minor league deal while he rehabs.
RHP Kyuji Fujikawa (Tommy John surgery in June 2013) won't be
ready for the start of the 2014 season.
RHP Arodys Vizcaino (Tommy John surgery in March 2012,
arthroscopic right elbow surgery in May 2013) missed a second
consecutive season. Instead of having Vizcaino go to the Arizona
Fall League, the Cubs are sending him to the instructional
league in Arizona so they can better monitor to his rehab.
Before the winter meetings, Cubs president Theo Epstein said
Vizcaino's immediate future is as a reliever.
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