Epstein not tipping free-agent hand

David DeJesus was Theo Epstein's first offseason move, but he won't be his last. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein will not get involved in discussing which players his team has identified in trade or free agent talks, but it's apparent the team will be active in both phases during the Winter Meetings next week.

Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer began their offseason by signing outfielder David DeJesus to a two-year, $10 million deal.

The Cubs have talked to agents for Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick.

"I don't think we can pay too much attention to rumors," Epstein said when asked about the two players. "There are always going to be things said about the Cubs, because we are a big-market club, and there's a lot of interest. We are thrilled about that.

"That's a reflection of the passion, the fans (and the media) have."

Epstein has said on numerous occasions that discussing individual players the team is considering is not in his best interest when competing against 29 other teams in the marketplace.

"If there's something going on and we just made a trade, you guys are going to talk about that," he said. "That's good for us. There's not much going on, and information is not readily available. There's going to be more speculation. That's fine. That comes with the territory, but I can only be truthful with you in outlining what our approach is."

Although DeJesus is the first piece of the 2012 puzzle, he doesn't necessarily represent the type of player the Cubs will be building their team around for 2012 and beyond. In that case, think young, athletic and versatile.

"No. 1 is to build this thing the right way," Epstein said. "That's for the long haul, mainly through scouting and player development through the acquisition of young players.

"The second thing is to take advantage of every opportunity that you have. That's short-term for us. That means building the 2012 club, hopefully the smart way, maximize our chances of winning. So we are not going to do anything to serve the second priority that disrupts the first."

One can read into those comments that if the Cubs are inclined to spend big this offseason, Prince Fielder at 27 fits into the picture while Albert Pujols at 32 does not.

"If there is a move that makes us that much better in the short term, but it's at the expense of doing things the right way, through a corps of young players, we're not going to make that move. Any rumor you hear or any potential player move, it's probably worth your while to assess it through that lense.

"I'm not going to say we aren't going to make a move that's unanticipated, or catch people by surprise, or not perfectly fit into that little box that's generally our philosophy. That's how we are evaluating moves as we look to build this thing."

Although the emphasis is building with youth, Epstein and Co. may be more prone to escalate the process in a different fashion because of the new collective bargaining agreement and the limitations on how much a team can spend in the amateur draft.

"We are still processing that," he said. "We look at it as how it's going to impact our drafting strategy, how we build our scouting department and international scouting department. I think there are still ways to get very aggressive in the new system. I think the new rules make it more of a scouting contest."