CHICAGO – While the free-agent frenzy is close to beginning for big-name pitchers such as Jon Lester and Max Scherzer, the Chicago Cubs are on record saying they want to bring in some veteran position-player leadership along with a top-of-the-line hurler.
More than likely that will come in the form of an outfielder, as Cubs president Theo Epstein indicated Tuesday in his end-of-the-year news conference.
"In an ideal world, we'd like to add to the outfield mix," Epstein said. "Just because we have three guys that go out there and form an Opening Day outfield as it is, that doesn't mean we're content. We're certainly going to add talent and shape the way the parts fit together once we can acquire some more talent."
The Cubs want a guy who has been there before. Someone who has playoff experience and can help lead a young team. He probably won't be an everyday starter, because the Cubs want to give their prospects a chance to grow and, frankly, there aren't many good outfielders hitting the market at the right age anyway. The proper target would also need to be good with the media, as that would help players like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro if someone else was around to answer the tough questions.
League sources indicate that the Cubs could be interested in Oakland Athletics outfielder Jonny Gomes for this role. He checks the boxes for leadership and playoff experience, having been to the postseason four of the past five years playing for three teams, including the A's in 2012 and 2014. He's exactly the type of player the Cubs' front office is undoubtedly looking for. He won a championship with Boston last season before winding up back to Oakland this year, hitting a combined .234 with six home runs and 37 RBIs between the two teams.
"The outfield is always an opportunity where you can add talent and the parts can fit well together," Epstein said.
Translation: the outfield is where a platoon works best, and it's the leadership, not the numbers, that the Cubs are looking for. The right-handed-hitting Gomes will turn 34 in November and isn't an everyday player, but he might fit nicely in left field along with incumbent Chris Coghlan. Gomes might find an American League team more to his liking because he could find at-bats as a designated hitter as well as in the outfield, but the Cubs could probably lure him to Chicago with the right two-year deal.
The Cubs are going to be careful with whatever veteran they bring in, and while Gomes and Epstein weren't in Boston at the same time, they were in the same division for plenty of years, Gomes having broken in with the Tampa Bay Rays while Epstein was running the Red Sox. Plus, everyone saw what Gomes brought to the Red Sox last season, and Epstein has plenty of people he can turn to in Boston to inform him. The Cubs shouldn't be surprised by any character issues.
There are other players who might fit the bill as a veteran leader, including longtime standout Torii Hunter. He might want more than platoon at-bats, though he turned 39 this season. But he's still going strong, helping the Detroit Tigers to another division title while hitting .286 with 17 home runs and 83 RBIs in 142 games and 549 at-bats. And he's been to the postseason eight times, including this season. So is Hunter ready for a part-time role? If so, he's another ideal fit.
Emilio Bonifacio is available and did a credible job with the Cubs in the first half this season helping some of the younger players, but he doesn't have postseason experience and didn't take the pressure off Rizzo or Castro when it came to facing the media. Gomes and Hunter could do that.
While the top-of-the-rotation pitcher the Cubs pursue will undoubtedly garner more headlines, the veteran leader they bring in might be -- relatively speaking -- as important. Someone has to show the youngest team in baseball what it takes to win over 162 games. Think Gomes, or someone like Hunter. One could be a Cub.