Rozner: Cubs' Epstein saving for rainy day

  • Daniel White/dwhite@dailyherald.comThe Cubs have the chips to deal and if they wanted they could get better before they leave for Arizona, but right now Theo Epstein is content and saving those chips for when he needs them.

    Daniel White/dwhite@dailyherald.comThe Cubs have the chips to deal and if they wanted they could get better before they leave for Arizona, but right now Theo Epstein is content and saving those chips for when he needs them.

 
 
Updated 1/16/2016 5:07 PM

Theo Epstein knows what you're thinking.

At least, he knew what I was thinking when I suggested it must be tempting to use the next month to improve the Cubs' 2016 roster.

 

After all, they have the chips to deal, and they could add another starter, bullpen arm and center fielder.

These are all moves the Cubs could make before they even pack the truck for Arizona, but Epstein is not looking -- right now -- to create the perfect team.

"I've made that mistake in the past," Epstein said during a quiet moment at the Cubs Convention, referring to his time in Boston. "There's a real tendency to try to build an uber-team, and you can actually mess things up by trying to do that.

"You think you have to address every single spot, you need double-redundancy, need a star player everywhere. You do that and you end up putting yourself in a bind, because you spend all your resources.

"You become inflexible, you can't adjust midstream and there becomes kind of a hubris associated with the team at that point.

"I prefer to build a really good team that we believe in going forward with flexibility and with certain guys challenged in certain roles, and see what comes of it."

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So the Cubs will head to the desert with a team that won 97 games and got better during the winter. They held onto all their best prospects and improved the offense, the defense, the outfield, the infield, the rotation and the bullpen.

Seems like a pretty decent off-season for a team favored to win the World Series for the first time since Moses was in short pants, but that doesn't mean Epstein will rest easy at night once spring training begins.

"It's baseball. It's life. So you know things are going to go wrong," said the Cubs president. "You just hope that the right things go wrong. It sounds funny, but you hope that if something goes wrong, the right things go wrong where you're in a position to address them and bounce back.

"You hope that the depth we've built up will save us when key players get hurt or when things don't go our way. That's what you spend your time thinking about.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Like, OK, what happens when we lose a starting pitcher? What happens when we lose two? What happens when we lose three? What happens when we lose an outfielder? What happens when we lose all three?

"You have to figure all that out. Who's your eighth starter? Who's your ninth starter? Who's the second outfielder to get called up from the minors?"

If Epstein sounds frightened, he's not, but he'd be negligent if he didn't attempt to prepare a championship-caliber team for the disasters that can take down a team before Memorial Day.

"We know we're gonna have to deal with that stuff during the course of the year," Epstein said. "One thing I don't worry about is how this club will handle -- psychologically -- being the favorite and having a target on its back.

"They're so connected with each other and so happy to be back together. They love it. They embrace that challenge. That's one thing that doesn't keep me up at night."

Rather than deal right now for a defensive specialist in center so they can move Jason Heyward to right, or help at the back end of the bullpen or rotation, Epstein will save his chips and a few dollars for the summer and the unforeseen.

"Part of the calculus is knowing that we'll need something significant, but also understanding we're not smart enough to know right now exactly what that will be," Epstein said. "So we need to see how our pitching shows up this year, see how healthy they stay, see how guys adjust to certain roles in the outfield.

"We think we'll have the resources to address what may pop up during the course of the year, but we're not smart enough to know exactly what those will be."

The truth is Heyward is a better right fielder than he is a center fielder. And the bullpen arms were taxed last summer. And the rotation could suffer injuries. And so on, and so on.

There are no perfect teams and there are concerns. You're not telling Epstein something he doesn't know. But relative to the rest of the National League, the Cubs appear to be in very good shape.

"I think the bullpen is really good. I think those guys were really good last year and I think they'll be really good this year," Epstein said. "If not, we'll have to make some adjustments like 20 other teams trying to adjust the bullpen midstream. But I like our guys. I think they're really underrated."

As for right field, many see Jorge Soler as a powerful chip that could bring a big return, as is the case with Javy Baez. But to listen to Epstein and Joe Maddon, you get the distinct impression they have zero interest in moving either player.

Of course, when the games begin there are always surprises and there are always injuries, which can change a team's approach to a season and to individual players.

But at least for the next month, Theo Epstein intends to sleep rather well.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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