Theo promises that ‘real soon’ Cubs will be dictating big moves
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter December 8, 2013 9:32PM
Updated: December 9, 2013 8:17PM
ORLANDO, Fla. — They’ll try to add pitching and maybe a hitter with an on-base percentage higher than his batting average.
But for all the money and trades flying around baseball in the last week, the Cubs are still small players in the newest age of big money as the annual winter meetings open Monday at Disney World’s Swan and Dolphin Resort.
As they await anticipated new local revenues and continue to deal with financial covenants affecting their baseball spending left from the highly leveraged franchise purchase, the Cubs couldn’t keep up with the big boys this week if they wanted to.
Never mind last week, when a five-day stretch featured 12 players getting multiyear deals worth at least $10 million per year from nine teams, totaling $747 million.
Six major free-agent deals and a major trade all were struck on Tuesday alone.
“We don’t like having days like [Tuesday], where there are big trades and free-agent signings and we’re sitting it out,” team president Theo Epstein said. “You think we want to be there sitting it out? No. But there will be a day real soon when we’re right in the middle of that because we have more financial flexibility, because we have lots of talented young players — assets that everyone wants around the game — and we’re going to be the ones dictating all those big moves.”
“Real soon” being real relative, it’s not happening this offseason, even with tens of millions in increased revenues per team coming into the game — helping to create spenders out of the Minnesota Twins (Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes for a combined seven years, $73 million) and Oakland Athletics (Scott Kazmir, two years, $22 million).
The Cubs might wind up with a mid-level outfielder and a short-term starting pitcher by the time they leave Orlando on Thursday.
“You hope to at least have things teed up,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “With the way things are moving quicker, we’ll try hard to get stuff done, and I hope that’s the way it works out.”
In terms of significant moves, however, it’s more likely they will leave with fewer impact big-leaguers than they have now — with Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija firmly on the shopping block this week.
Many industry executives expect Samardzija to be traded this winter, with two seasons remaining of club control, because of the sides’ inability to find common ground on a multiyear extension and the Cubs’ woeful chances to compete in the short term, with or without him.
Epstein said in recent days there has been little or no progress in would-be contract talks with Samardzija.
And the one potential big addition the Cubs appeared to have within their financial ability early in the week — a big posting bid to put them in play for potential Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka — has disappeared.
For all the boasting by the business side of the operation about how the bank covenants don’t apply to Japanese-player posting bids, MLB and Japanese baseball officials this past week capped bids at $20 million.
The result is that the 25-year-old right-hander some consider the top free-agent pitcher might not get posted at all. And if he does, the cap assures a sizable pool of potential $20 million bidders and a relatively open MLB-like free-agency process for the player, effectively taking the Cubs out of the process.
As much as he believes in the organization’s top prospects and the front office’s building plan two years in, Epstein said he doesn’t like the short-term results and fallout any better than the fans.
“Our business plan and our baseball plans are actually pretty synced up in terms of the timing,” he said, “and so I hope that both sides of the organization continue with their plan and execute at a high level so there’s more resources and there’s more flexibility and we have more mature, talented players in the organization.”
How long till all the pieces are in place and the Cubs can, if they choose, make moves like the New York Yankees — or even the
“All those things are coming up,” he said. “We can’t speed it up. We can’t make time go faster, but I really feel like we’re going in the right direction.”