CHICAGO – OK, who’s it going to be?
Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister or Stephen Strasburg? The Washington Nationals seemingly would be ready to deal one of their starters in the wake of the reported agreement with fellow righty Max Scherzer. Or maybe the Cubs will get back into the Cole Hamels derby, assuming it’s still on. Then again, perhaps they just dole out more money in the form of an offer to James Shields.
Or maybe, after acquiring Dexter Fowler, it’s time for Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein to take a vacation. Hoyer was asked Monday if the Cubs might get back into the starter market after bolstering the outfield.
The Cubs' general manager paused just long enough for observers to read into his comments.
“I feel like we are always active and we’re always going to be engaged in different conversations to upgrade the team, but I’d probably expect that our team will look relatively similar when we get to Mesa [their Arizona spring training facility] as it does today,” Hoyer said. “We’ll have our pulse on everything and we’ll be engaged ... but given where we are in the offseason and given the way our team looks, I think we’ll look pretty similar when we get together.”
There’s not exactly a “we’re done” feel to that statement. The Cubs have always been up front about their intentions, and that even includes the moves they can’t really discuss. Of course, they couldn't have come out and said they were interested in Fowler, but they sent up enough smoke signals in recent days that the trade with the Houston Astros wasn’t exactly a shocker. Same with Jon Lester, same with Joe Maddon.
So you can probably believe Hoyer when he says this looks like the team that will open camp, but maybe only because forecasting a huge deal is just too difficult. It also might break from the Cubs' philosophy. Even now, Hoyer acknowledged that the team will rely on young players to carry the offense, including Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. So the Cubs are still tied to the “we’re not all-in for 2015” mantra. That’s because the next deal probably would have to involve a core prospect. Remember, in reshaping things this winter, they haven’t parted with anyone of real significance.
According to league sources, the Philadelphia Phillies wanted (or still want) top shortstop prospect Addison Russell for Hamels, hence no deal. It’s more than likely the same for any of the top-flight pitchers.
Over this offseason, Cubs president Epstein has talked about discrepancies in the worth of soon-to-be free agents. He said sometimes you have to wait until the price comes down. Perhaps that’s why the Cubs landing Fowler didn't happen until Monday, though they’ve been talking to the Astros since early December. And perhaps that’s why Hoyer left the door slightly ajar: If the Phillies or Nationals lower their asking price to a prospect such as first baseman Daniel Vogelbach, we might have another deal.
The bottom line is that the Cubs have made their strategy clear. They’ll consider anything that does not involve a core prospect -- at least for now. There will be a day when they might package an Albert Almora for a final, big piece, but we’re not there yet. The Cubs have done as much as possible to be competitive next season without running afoul of their long-term goal of being a consistent winner. So the next step simply could be spring training.