By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — After answering numerous questions about the return of outfielder Kyle Schwarber on Thursday, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was asked a flurry of questions about the team’s positioning and maneuvering with the trade deadline waiting just more than three weeks away.
As you’d expect, Epstein kept his cards close to his vest. Real or not, rumors agitate executives as this time of year.
“July is a month full of conversations,” Epstein said.
That answer was brief, but it spoke volumes about the Cubs’ intent to improve their lot going forward. Starting pitching is an obvious need for Chicago, with right-hander John Lackey struggling for most of the season and now landing on the disabled list alongside right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who’s expected to make his first rehab start in the minor leagues next week in recovering from a hand injury.
Of course, the most important aspect in mind for the Cubs is to improve from within as they sit at 42-43 and 4.5 games behind the NL Central-leading Brewers entering play Friday.
“If we can improve the club through trades, we will,” Epstein said Thursday. “Our biggest fixes are inside the clubhouse. This is a team that averaged 100 wins a season for the last two years. If there is not a player from outside that can spur us to play at that level because of the guys who are already here. Of course, we are going to work hard to try and improve the club. It may happen. It may not happen. The biggest fix rests with the talented players we already have.”
The Cubs may be in the market for a veteran backup catcher after they recently parted ways with Miguel Montero. Lefty-swinging Tigers catcher Alex Avila fits that bill. Epstein refused to get into specific names but admitted the front office has discussed the addition of a veteran catcher.
The Cubs are currently relying on second-year pro Willson Contreras and rookie Victor Caratini behind the plate.
“Maybe if the right veteran guy is out there,” Epstein said. “We also liked the way Caratini handled his first start. We look forward to seeing him getting to play more too. If the right guy is out there and the right trade is out there, sure.”
Epstein and the Cubs are all ears, but it’s clear they won’t overact in a marketplace that has yet to fully formulate.
“Trades are an opportunity to make your club better,” Epstein said. “A lot of it depends on the standings and what teams are out of it. Some years it’s relatively easy to make small or big upgrades. Some years it’s virtually impossible. You can get in trouble when you say you have to force something. Sometimes the market dictates it. It is early. There are going to be lots of opportunities. We spend a lot of time talking about how we can make improvements from within. We believe most of our improvements will come from players wearing Cub uniforms right now.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.