Veteran mentor is high on Cubs’ shopping list
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter August 19, 2014 10:54PM
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Updated: August 20, 2014 2:21AM
NEW YORK — By now, anybody who follows the Cubs has heard the front office’s vow to aggressively pursue pitching over the next two winters to catch up to the quality of young Cubs hitters believed to be coming down the pipeline.
But the idea of signing a big-shot pitcher such as All-Star lefty Jon Lester makes it easy to forget the other big need the Cubs’ top execs have identified: a veteran every-day player to help ease the pressure and transition of all the young guys expected to be on the 2015 roster.
General manager Jed Hoyer said again over the weekend that this remains a priority for a team that — despite the growth of Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo — still doesn’t have a productive, veteran, lean-on-me presence in the clubhouse.
‘‘It’s hard. There’s not a lot of bats available,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘And there’s a lot of positions on the field that we want to dedicate to the guys that are here or to young players.
‘‘But I do think it’s important to have some veteran guys with good approaches that these guys can lean on, because I do think right now we don’t really have guys that have played for a long time in the big leagues that have been through the ups and down as much.’’
The Cubs considered going after that type of player last winter and talked internally about free agent Curtis Granderson before focusing their limited resources at the time on a bid for pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
With Javy Baez already in the lineup, Jorge Soler expected next month and top prospect Kris Bryant due in the first half of next season, the Cubs may be forced to use some of their newfound payroll flexibility to act on that need this winter.
Granderson, who said he never heard from either Chicago team with an offer over the winter despite rumored links before he signed with the New York Mets, wouldn’t have been ideal in retrospect. He has off-the-charts qualities as a teammate, a student of the game and a work-ethic guy. But he cost a four-year commitment for $60 million and would have cost the Cubs their second-round draft pick as compensation.
The free-agent pool for what the Cubs are seeking isn’t particularly deep this time around, especially for valuable veterans who might be willing to take a contract short enough to keep from blocking a young guy.
Chase Headley of the New York Yankees has a relationship with Hoyer and others in the front office. The Detroit Tigers’ Torii Hunter could be a fit if he’s willing to take on a role like that with a team that’s not ready to win. Maybe even ex-Cub Aramis Ramirez is a possibility if the Milwaukee Brewers don’t pick up his option.
Granderson knows the value of a guiding veteran for a young guy trying to break in, especially in the uncertain environment of a rebuilding team. He was one of those young players with 90-loss Tigers teams in 2004 and ’05 before sticking in ’06 with the Tigers’ American League pennant winner.
‘‘It can have some positives,’’ Granderson said. ‘‘When I came up with Detroit, there were a few young guys — Justin Verlander, Joel Zumiya, myself, Ryan Raburn. But then you add a couple guys that were there like [veterans] Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, and you had Dmitri Young. . . .
‘‘I think you add that combination of guys that have had success [with young talent], then you start to go ahead and put things together.’’
Said Hoyer: ‘‘It’s certainly something we want to find. It’s hard to find right now. But I do think it’ll help all those young guys to have that.’’