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Cubs might be players in free-agent market

Albert Pujols might yet wind up slugging for Cubs if right chaevents sets up after season. | Jeff Roberson~AP

Albert Pujols might yet wind up slugging for the Cubs if the right chain of events sets up after the season. | Jeff Roberson~AP

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Updated: November 27, 2011 12:56PM

For all the talk about scouting and player development Tuesday, Theo Epstein also made it clear the Cubs will remain a regular, competitive player in the free-agent market.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll be in the market this winter for first basemen Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols — in particular Pujols

On his first day addressing the media as the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, Epstein wouldn’t talk specifically about the two big-ticket impact hitters on the market.

‘‘But I’ll say this,’’ he said. ‘‘The free agent that requires a long-term, substantial commitment — there’s a time and a place for that type of investment. And I think it’s important to understand when that right time is.’’

Like, maybe not when the starting rotation is thinner than it has been in recent memory.

Epstein stressed the importance of getting the complete package in any multiyear, megabucks free-agent deal, including ‘‘in an ideal world, you’d love for him to be an up-the-middle player.’’

He also stressed the value of buying as many of the player’s prime years as possible, which would seem to preclude at least Pujols — 32 next season — from the discussion.

‘‘There will be a time and a place for that,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘I’m not going to say whether it’s now or down the road. But even if we don’t sign a particular free agent, we’re going to be active in free agency because it’s an opportunity. It’s a supply-and-demand dynamic. Understanding the supply-and-demand dynamics means discovering small opportunities to make the organization better. It might mean signing a released player to a one-year, $1.25 million deal, and that works well if his name happens to be David Ortiz [nine years ago]. It’s probably not going to happen again.

‘‘But there’s a time and a place for the big-impact players, and also a time and a place — always — for the smaller, more nuanced move.’’

Answer on Q?

Epstein already has talked to Cubs manager Mike Quade by phone and plans to meet with him in person soon.

But the likelihood Quade will complete the last year of his contract on the field remains in doubt as Epstein and soon-to-be-named general manager Jed Hoyer make the next decision on the organization’s management team.

‘‘The most important first step is I need to get to know Mike Quade better,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘I had a great conversation with him on the phone. [Now] we need to sit down. I need to get a little bit of a de-brief, and I think he needs to hear my vision for the organization. . . . 

‘‘We have to talk about some things that happened over the last year or so. . . . We’ll get together and decide where we go from there.’’

Ryne Sandberg remains at the forefront of the managerial question. The Hall of Famer is in limbo after a successful season leading the Philadelphia Phillies’ Class AAA affiliate to the playoffs.

After joining the big-league staff for the final weeks of the season, Sandberg was shut out of a 2012 promotion when the Phillies opted to bring back their big-league field staff intact.

Many close to Sandberg believe he would not rule out a big-league coaching job if he doesn’t land a managerial job.

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