PHOENIX -- The general managers meetings wrapped up here as three days of baseball conversation with media, GMs and agents produced plenty of rumors and storylines. For example, big news came in the form of free-agent pitcher Jon Lester starting a tour that will have him sitting with Boston Red Sox honchos and visiting the Chicago Cubs sometime next week. But the fun at these meetings can come in the form of smaller anecdotes, such as finding out former Cub Jeff Samardzija was offered a chance to play in the NFL as recently as 2013.
Here are some observations, rumors, opinions and analysis from three days at the luxurious Biltmore hotel:
Cubs not in (young) player trade mode
Once again, Theo Epstein reiterated the notion that the Cubs aren’t looking to trade from their prospect base.
“We can fit all of our impact position player prospects on the field at the same time,” Epstein said Wednesday. “That’s probably what we’ll end up doing. We’re not rushing out to move those guys for pitching even though we admit we would like to acquire impact pitching. We’re not going to close the doors on anything, but we’re certainly not in a rush to trade away our position players.”
Analysis: Let’s put this storyline to bed, at least for now. We’ll have to take their word on this one as they keep repeating it. Plus, it makes sense. The Cubs didn’t spend three years acquiring talent to dismantle it for a player or two -- especially if that player is in the 30-year-old area. It means the Cole Hamels rumors should probably die, right? Unless of course the Phillies are just doing a salary dump and aren't asking for a grade-A prospect in return. Now, they can always be blown away or a new player (Giancarlo Stanton?) could become available, but the Cubs rightly aren’t looking to make that big deal right now. That doesn’t mean they won’t move a more seasoned young player ...
There’s some consensus at the meetings among people in baseball that Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro will indeed be traded this offseason. As much as the Cubs have shown no real momentum for this, it still persists as not quite a rumor, but a belief. One longtime executive went as far as to say, “Castro has taken his last at-bat as a Cub.” There were no rumblings of any trade talk taking place in regard to Castro, but the offseason has just started.
Analysis: This kind of talk obviously continues to make sense on the surface simply because the Cubs have a logjam of middle infielders and Castro is ready-made for a contending or rebuilding team and has a team-friendly contract. As we know, the Cubs are under no pressure to move him right now to make way for Addison Russell, as he’s not quite ready for the majors. It’s simple: The Cubs are in a position to get maximum value for Castro -- partly because of the season he just had -- and should hold out until they do. Keeping him wouldn’t be a bad thing, either. Losing a three-time All-Star at 24 years old should be a very tough decision to make.
As much as some in baseball -- probably those in uniform -- feel the hiring of Joe Maddon and the firing of Rick Renteria was a sordid affair, every single person I talked to at the meetings felt the Cubs made the right move. That includes front-office executives and player agents. One agent said it was the “easiest decision Theo Epstein should ever have.” More than one opposing GM said they would have “done the same thing” given the same circumstances. And to be clear, this has nothing to do with Renteria and everything to do with Maddon’s reputation. It’s impeccable. One agent spoke of his client going to the perennially cheap Tampa Bay Rays and finding the clubhouse atmosphere was well worth whatever monetary shortcomings the organization had. That was all because of Maddon. Asked if it will play in a big market, the agent said he was a “perfect fit for Chicago.”
Former Rays boss Andrew Friedman chimed in: “He’s unique. He’s incredibly open-minded. He’s a great communicator and does a really good job of putting guys in a position to have success. ... I would bet on him to accomplish special things with anything he is doing in life.”
Analysis: Having never covered Maddon as a reporter, I had a chance to form an opinion from scratch. Without leading on the executives and agents, they continually raved about him and pointed out the dynamic differences in personalities between him and Renteria. Maddon is a great leader now, they said. The jury is way out on Renteria. How could the Cubs pass? They couldn’t. Some commended the Cubs for having the guts to do it, but others repeated the notion that it was an easy decision.
The former Cub is likely to be traded from the Oakland Athletics before the start of the 2015 season. He’s set to become a free agent after next season and wherever he’s traded he’s not likely to sign a long-term deal with his new club. Incidentally, Samardzija was approached by a “playoff-bound” NFL team -- while still with the Cubs in the fall of 2013 -- to play wide receiver for them. He turned down the offer as the injury risk was too great.
Analysis: If the Cubs and Samardzija couldn’t agree on his value for several years while he was in Chicago, it’s doubtful they’ll do so once he becomes a free agent. However, at that point, circumstances with the Cubs should be different in terms of the team’s place in the baseball world. That being said, a lot would have to fall into place for a Samardzija return to the Cubs to happen. As for playing football after last Cubs season, Epstein said Wednesday, “That would have been difficult to allow.”
The Cubs are both pleased with the job of their bullpen and weary of regression. Epstein explained the front office has to “plan for the worst” since bullpens have proven over and over they can’t be trusted from year to year. The Cubs picked up righty Donn Roach on Wednesday to help with their depth.
“Adding a piece, a leader down there, is something we have talked about,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “As far as needing a closer, we feel good about [Hector] Rondon. He has great stuff, great makeup, so it’s not something we think we need.”
Analysis: Picking up Roach underscores what the Cubs should be doing with their bullpen: spending little on it. Since relievers are inconsistent anyway, why spend big money on a guy like Andrew Miller? It would be one thing if the Cubs were desperate for help -- like, maybe, the Los Angeles Dodgers should be -- but a track record has to mean something. They can plan for the worst by bolstering their depth, but right now, that’s all they need to do.