CHICAGO -- As the Chicago Cubs search for starting pitching, they made sure they wouldn't lose one of their own as they added top prospect C.J. Edwards to their 40-man roster Thursday.
It was an important formality as Thursday was a deadline in advance of the Rule 5 draft at next month's winter meetings. It means another team can't take Edwards, though others within the organization will be available as he was the lone addition to the roster, which stands at 39.
None of the Cubs' other well-known prospects are available for the draft, though some -- like Kris Bryant -- aren't on the 40-man roster yet. Bryant doesn't need to be protected because of his relatively short service time as a professional. It was one reason the Cubs resisted bringing up Bryant last season, as they would have had to use a 40-man roster spot.
Is one of those spots being saved for free agent Jon Lester? Or will the Cubs revisit a deal for Cole Hamels? Or will they simply let the Boston Red Sox spend big this year on Lester, while the New York Yankees lie in the weeds for Max Scherzer? Think about it. If Boston and New York -- or another team -- spend well over $100 million for players now, they're less likely to do it again next winter when the free agent class is deeper and better. If the Cubs are driving up the price for Lester, it may benefit them later. There might be some doubts the Cubs are willing to spend big this winter, but there should be no doubt they will by next offseason.
"We are in a position, perhaps as soon as this offseason and certainly over the next 15 months, we're going to be adding some talent from outside the organization," said Theo Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations, not long after last season ended. "We hope it will be impact talent."
How many times have you seen that quote? Fans might need reminding that he included next offseason in the Cubs' timeline. In fact, the front office has specifically expressed its delight in the talent pool coming a year from now. But the Cubs are not in this to just drive up the price for someone else. If Lester will agree to a deal that suits them -- think less than $150 million -- then the Cubs will grab him. But just like Russell Martin, there is no reason to go all out. The Red Sox might ultimately be doing that, plus the Cubs can't match the comfort factor he felt in Boston.
Hamels could be just as good an option for a lot less money, as he's owed $90 million over the next four years. But it means trading from the Cubs' prospect pool. You could see Edwards going in a deal like this, but an industry source confirmed Thursday other reports that the Philadelphia Phillies want several top-end young players for Hamels. The Cubs haven't stated this specifically, but it's doubtful they want to give up a player like Jorge Soler or Bryant or Addison Russell for a pitcher, when they can simply spend a little more either now or later and get one without moving a top prospect.
What about Starlin Castro? If the Phillies dump Jimmy Rollins, would they take Castro for Hamels? If Philadelphia is retooling and not rebuilding, Castro is a perfect fit, but again, the Cubs would be giving up a three-time All-Star for a $90 million pitcher who's six years older. No, the Cubs shouldn't make a deal for Hamels unless they love it -- not with a sport suddenly rich with pitching.
One thing that may factor into the Cubs' thinking is predicting when the team will be at its peak. It's guess work, but if the young core matures at a "normal" rate, Chicago will be at its max closer to 2018 and 2019. That's not to say the Cubs can't win before then, and it's not to say they can't add a marquee pitcher during those offseasons.
But if Lester -- or even Hamels -- comes on board now, how do they fit in during those later years of their contracts? It's doubtful they'll be in their primes. That has to be one reason why the Cubs won't just give Lester whatever he wants. The team is still building.
Tough decisions loom, but the Cubs have a little wiggle room in that they are still developing on offense, and next winter's expected class of David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, Doug Fister, Yovani Gallardo, Jason Heyward and plenty of others will make it easier not to go crazy in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, with Edwards on the 40-man roster now, maybe he's a potential solution.
"You never know," he said recently. "I could do real well in the spring and I might get a shot."