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Cubs GM Meeting notes: Ben Zobrist has many suitors

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Chicago Cubs bench coach Davey Martinez was the ninth and final candidate to interview for the manager’s job with the Los Angeles Dodgers as they narrow down the applicants to 3-4 according to general manager Farhan Zaidi.

Martinez is well known to Dodgers brass as he coached with Tampa Bay while current Dodgers President Andrew Friedman was his boss there. The Cubs haven’t discussed a replacement if Martinez gets the job but first base coach Brandon Hyde was the bench coach before Joe Maddon took over while Doug Dascenzo is still in the organization and could always take over at first base. He had the position for a few weeks before Maddon arrived last year with Martinez.

Initial meetings

The Cubs are winding down the process of meeting with agents in a feeling out period as they weed through their free agent options, especially on the mound. Winning in 2015 has helped their sales job.

“We’re doing less selling of the organization than exploring the actual fit on the field,” Theo Epstein said Wednesday afternoon.

Some contract numbers are being exchanged but mostly these are fact finding missions right now.

“Process oriented,” Epstein said of the meetings. ‘Are you prepared to move quickly’? Things like that. More procedural oriented.”

Ben Zobrist

One name who could move quickly in signing is Ben Zobrist. Industry sources say many teams have expressed interest but that the number will be whittled down quickly. His market isn’t really affected by others so some believe he’ll sign before the winter meetings. The Cubs are in the mix as Chicago’s location on the map is a plus for the Nashville resident.

“We’re not ruled out,” Epstein said in general of free agents. “Being centrally located includes you in a lot of things.”

Zobrist fits better for the Cubs if they make a trade of a middle infielder -- which is a possibility. Other teams among the mix for his services include Atlanta, Washington and Kansas City.

Centerfield

Finding a replacement for Dexter Fowler who will turn down the Cubs qualifying offer by Friday’s deadline could come via trade or free agency. Executives feel there is more “chatter” than usual right now and there will be movement among players as centerfielder Aaron Hicks was acquired by the New York Yankees from the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday.

That move means the Yankees might trade outfielder Brett Gardner who has about $40 million left on his contract over the next three years. But if the Cubs wanted to spend big money on a longer term centerfielder they could have kept Fowler. Obviously they were willing to give him $15.8 million for one season (the qualifying offer) which means a shorter term stop-gap at that position -- even if it’s a little pricey -- is more realistic than a guy like Gardner.

Remember, Albert Almora is major league ready on defense and comes cost controlled so the Cubs don’t want to lock themselves into anything long term with an aging veteran -- especially with more money most likely coming onto the books in their pitching staff.

“We’ve brainstormed a number of trade possibilities as well as other free agents and some dialogue but nothing that’s moved down the field yet,” Epstein said regarding centerfield.

The Bullpen

For the second consecutive day Cubs brass insisted they would like to spend money on the bullpen but now might not be the time considering their needs elsewhere.

“Adding to the bullpen including investing in a solid reliever is on the list of things we’d like to do but you have to prioritize,” Epstein said. “We just don’t have the means to do it all. No club really does.”

Starting pitching and the replacement in center will come before spending on one reliever and the Cubs have done well finding cheaper talent like Trevor Cahill and Clayton Richard.

“That’s one of the things we talked about all year was ‘hey it might be a good offseason to invest in a reliever’ but the reality is we can’t do that and preclude a shot at a starter that we need,” Epstein explained.

Quick hits

-- Once again Epstein deflected talk of a contract extension for himself but says it would be handled in due time. Epstein is signed through the 2016 season.

“I don’t have a minute for anything but trades and free agency,” he said.

-- Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer both reiterated the importance of chemistry within a locker room and the due diligence they perform before they bring in a new player via trade or free agency. There’s a lot of background done on players.

“It’s hugely important but it’s an inexact science,” Epstein said.

-- Epstein discussed the balancing act teams perform in tying up money for future years which could prevent unforeseeable but urgent moves to be made later. Of course the team does get a good player in the process.

“A lot less flexibility but with a lot more talent,” Epstein described. “It’s a trade-off.”