Cubs' Epstein says he'll keep long view in mind
No, the winter meetings aren't what they used to be as far as wheeling and dealing go.
Cellphones and email have enabled team presidents and general managers to make trades or sign players on the spot.
Still, there's always a chance something will happen, and that's the case this week when the baseball industry gathers in Orlando, Fla. Actually, major-league teams make up just a portion of the winter meetings, as the minor leagues, various vendors and jobseekers also crowd the hotel lobbies and exhibit halls.
The winter meetings have more symbolic value nowadays, but some team exec may head to "the podium" to announce a blockbuster trade or signing. But if nothing gets done, it's important to remember that the meetings represent just one stop during a long off-season.
"Sometimes it can be that way, where it's just another four days and then deals get consummated afterward," Cubs president Theo Epstein. "Sometimes there's a feeding frenzy. Deadlines are put in place at the winter meetings. You have to be prepared for it to go both ways.
"That said, I think it's important to have people around you reminding you that it's important to do the right deal, not just a deal because there's deal momentum at the winter meetings unlike anything you've ever seen before. So it's important to make sure you keep your perspective."
For the Cubs, there's still much work to be done in putting together a team for the 2014 season. The Cubs under Epstein rule have combined for 197 losses over two years, and although most fans remain on board with the long-term plan, there seems to be a growing restlessness within the faithful.
Epstein says he understands.
"We feel the same frustration," he said. "But I think I'd be really compromising the organization if we decided just because we were frustrated and people around us were frustrated that we would scrap the plan and try to add some things cosmetically to make it look better than it really is.
"There's a really high bar we're aiming for and we know we're going to get there and it's going to be sustainable."
There's been a lot of activity in baseball ahead of the meetings, but the Cubs have focused their attention this off-season mainly on hiring a new manager (Rick Renteria) and coaching staff.
As you'd expect with a team that lost 96 games last season, there are plenty of needs to fill. The Cubs will try to muddle through at least one more season of suffering before their highly regarded minor-league prospects are ready to contribute to the big club.
For 2014, Epstein said the Cubs would like to add to the bullpen, add a starting pitcher and he's looking for another outfielder to "round out the bench."
"Then, big picture,." he said, "we're continuing to try to bring in as many younger, talented players as we can, guys who are going to be here, to impact not just the 2014 club but this franchise for a long period of time. So that remains a very high priority as we look to make transactions."
That brings us to the question hanging heavily over the Cubs: What should they do about starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija? Even though he's a homegrown product and relatively young (29 next month), Samardzija and the Cubs have yet to agree on long-term contract extension, and it's possible he'll be traded sometime this calendar year. Samardzija can become a free agent after the 2015 season.
If Samardzija is traded this winter, the Cubs will need to find another starting pitcher and one who can throw the 200 innings Samardzija can provide.
"No real change," Epstein said of the Samardzija situation. "I think there's mutual desire, but the economics of the game sometimes makes it a little difficult. The situation can create a gap there, but we'll continue to talk."
The Cubs are in the process of finalizing a deal with left-handed setup man Wesley Wright, and they may look for someone to put into the closer's mix along with Pedro Strop, who got a look-see late this past season.
In the outfield, the Cubs missed the pop provided by Alfonso Soriano after they traded him to the Yankees. They re-signed Ryan Sweeney this off-season. He is an option for center field. Nate Schierholtz is back to play right field after a strong first half in 2013. Junior Lake, who came up after the all-star break, adds excitement and versatility, but the Cubs ideally would like a veteran outfielder to provide some leadership and production.
"You can't take a deal just so that you can say you did something or to get involved," Epstein said. "It really comes back to the work we're doing behind the scenes to try to build assets.
"The more young players you have, the more talented players you have, the more financial flexibility you have, the more you can be at the center of those kind of deals and be a major player."