NASHVILLE -- Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein predicted a "wild" week as the 2015 winter meetings kick off here Monday at the Opryland Hotel. Will his team be part of the mayhem?
All signs point to the Cubs completing at least one trade in the near future after agreeing to terms with free-agent pitcher John Lackey on a two-year contract Friday. If it's a deal that clears money off their books -- think Jorge Soler, Starlin Castro or Miguel Montero -- it might put them in the hunt for outfielder Jason Heyward, long coveted by the team.
"I think we're making some progress," Epstein said Friday. "We've had a lot of conversations. ... Sometimes when you make a trade it opens up the ability to sign a free agent."
Epstein didn't say it directly, but that's a sign Heyward might be on their minds. He's seeking a deal between 8-10 years, according to industry sources. Maybe that can work in the Cubs' favor as they've said all along in order to sign a big-ticket player they would have to get "creative" with the contract. A longer term deal might allow for that. It has been reported the Cubs have about $20-30 million to spend this offseason before increases for returning players. About half of that was eaten up by Lackey's signing. Doing the math, the Cubs probably need more money for 2016 in order to sign Heyward even if they backload some of his salary.
"We've been working with our business side on ways to create a little more room for 2016 within the parameters that we have," Epstein said. "I wouldn't rule anything in or anything out."
The Cubs can help themselves and kill two birds with one stone by moving a player making decent money for a young arm while giving them the wherewithal to sign Heyward. Though Epstein is on record saying Montero would be back next season -- and the team really likes how Castro responded in the second half -- do we really believe anyone not named Schwarber, Bryant, Rizzo or Russell is untouchable? No chance. Soler can be moved as well. You might like his finish to the season but he has problems in cold weather and staying healthy. And remember you have to give up something to get something. That's as important as anything.
There's real interest in Shelby Miller of Atlanta but it remains to be seen if a Miller/Soler trade can be consummated, as has been reported. Kevin Gausman's name has popped up in trade chatter after the Cubs were high on another Baltimore Orioles' pitcher in free agency, Wei-Yin Chen. Like Miller, Gausman is young (24) and not eligible for free agency for several years (2021). Meanwhile, Cleveland continues to be a possible trade partner as they are in need of position players but don't have a lot of money to spend, according to industry sources. It could impede a deal for one of the aforementioned Cubs.
It'll take hard work but if they can find a young pitcher while slashing payroll it'll be a great move this week as Epstein admitted their pitching prospects aren't ready.
"I don't think we're in a position yet to count on our homegrown starters," he said.
There's a good chance a deal that nets them a pitcher while cutting a salary will also cost them prospects but it'll be worth it if the Cubs land Heyward in a mega-deal. Maybe none of this is possible. Once again, Epstein laid out the Cubs' financial situation after they walked away from both David Price and Jeff Samardzija when the bidding got too high.
"They're a little more fully developed and fully realized from a payroll standpoint," Epstein said after Price signed with the Boston Red Sox for seven years, $217 million. "A place we hope to be in several years. Right now we just couldn't compete at that level. I still think we can do plenty of things that can help our club in 2016 and beyond that make sense for us."
If the Cubs return all their starting position players save Dexter Fowler then they didn't find a deal to their liking but more than likely they'll pull the trigger on something this week while trying to pry a second player away from the St. Louis Cardinals. And don't forget free agent Ben Zobrist. He's still in play especially if the Cubs move on from Heyward.
"There's always more trade talk than actually takes place," Epstein said.
That might be true most years but perhaps this time it will be different.
"I think the meetings are going to be pretty wild," Epstein declared.