NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Last year on Day 2 of the winter meetings the Chicago Cubs signed Jon Lester. This time they pulled off essentially a two-for-one deal, signing free-agent infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist and getting from the New York Yankees pitcher Adam Warren, plus a player to be named (likely infielder Brendan Ryan), in a trade that sent three-time All-Star second baseman Starlin Castro to New York.
Once again it was a headline-grabbing day for the Cubs' front office as it continues to reshape and fortify the team for 2016.
“We could not have made this signing without this trade, and would not have made this trade without this signing,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said.
Longtime Castro fans won’t understand moving a 25-year-old who might return to the All-Star Game someday at a new position, for a 34-year-old super-utility player. Epstein would prefer you look at the “totality” of the deal to appreciate it.
“The shape of [Zobrist's] contribution fits our club a little bit better,” he said.
-- Though Castro struck out less than usual last season, Zobrist is the quintessential contact hitter who walked more than he whiffed in 2015. The Cubs want their free-swinging lineup to have a few more contact guys.
-- Zobrist can lead off, making the Cubs' task of finding a center fielder easier. He doesn’t have to be the combo guy that Dexter Fowler was.
-- Epstein believes the switch-hitting Zobrist will help mitigate some struggles against right-handed pitching. “We were starting to get vulnerable to the right-handed power pitcher with a good breaking ball,” he said.
-- Zobrist can play all around the diamond, adding flexibility to the roster and allowing infielder Javier Baez more at-bats. The Cubs want to continue to break Baez in slowly, putting him in the best positions to succeed. When Zobrist starts or moves to the outfield, Baez would be free to play second.
-- Zobrist just helped the Kansas City Royals to a championship. “Ben is a winning baseball player,” Epstein said. “His offense, his defense, his base running. He’s been one of the more valuable players in the game for a long time. He’s incredibly versatile.”
None of the above points means Zobrist is a more talented player than Castro, but the Cubs feel he’s a better fit for them at this particular time. Add the pitching element in Warren, and that’s the totality of the deal Epstein wants to focus on.
“Adam Warren is a quality major league pitcher,” Epstein said. “We really came to feel the price of poker was very high to acquire starting pitching.”
Shelby Miller wasn’t coming to Chicago, and neither were some of the other names on the market as asking prices were simply too high -- think Kyle Schwarber or Kris Bryant -- so the Cubs did what they set out to do on the mound: add an impact guy in John Lackey and depth at pitcher in Warren.
The Cubs must feel like good fortune follows them. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was interested in Castro at the trade deadline, thinking he could be a good player at second base. Though a deal wasn’t struck, Castro moved over to second for the Cubs anyway and thrived down the stretch. What if he had struggled? Cashman was given firsthand knowledge, and it paid off for the Cubs. After Epstein proposed a Castro-for-Warren deal at the beginning of the offseason, Cashman balked but then agreed -- just before Zobrist was getting set to make his decision. Syncing up the deals was part luck but mostly due to hard work.
It may not feel like a lot, but the Cubs checked off a bunch of boxes on Tuesday night. The one fear -- regarding Lackey and Zobrist -- is that age catches up with them. Otherwise the Cubs got more flexible while adding a winning ballplayer and a young pitcher. They had another good Day 2 of the winter meetings, and may not be done yet as Epstein intimated another trade/free-agent signing was possible.
"There is still the potential for that again," Epstein said.
As if Tuesday's blockbusters weren't enough. The next one could be even bigger if it includes outfielder Jason Heyward. To be continued.