By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cubs fell short of their goal of winning a second consecutive World Series in 2017, being humbled and thoroughly outplayed by the newly crowned National League champion Dodgers in five games.
The manner in which the ending played out seems to have given both the players and management a new resolve headed into next season. Judging by his season-ending press conference Friday afternoon, it appears president of baseball operations Theo Epstein won’t be content with the three straight NLCS appearances the organization has registered.
Epstein made clear in his marathon media session that standing pat this offseason won’t be an option for the Cubs, who rallied with a strong second half to finish with 92 wins and win the NL Central. Epstein expressed a desire to retain right-hander Jake Arrieta and closer Wade Davis but added, “Wanting doesn’t mean having.” At the forefront of business in the next four months for the Cubs front office will be addressing the rotation and closer role.
To help on those fronts — notably in obtaining another starting pitcher — Epstein acknowledged that it might be time to deal from some of the team’s depth among position players.
“I certainly think we have major league talent to move if we are able to find the right deals,” Epstein said without hesitation. “I believe we have plenty of good prospects to move as well. They may not be headline guys, but there are certain trades to be made without touching our big league team if we want to.”
Watching many Cubs players have poor approaches at the plate amid postseason struggles reminded the front office of the importance of having different types of batters in the lineup. Epstein spoke of a need to “grind out” at-bats that are more “professional,” which would complement the slugging component the Cubs boast..
“We look into free agency as well as approach all avenues to get better,” Epstein said. “We want the organization and big league team to be better. That is contemplating trades at the big league level and with prospects. Also, trades for buy-low guys who are not household names, who maybe can become so in the future. We need to be honest about things we can do better in.”
The Cubs’ positional duplications appear to be at shortstop and the outfielder. The Cubs have two young talents in Addison Russell and Javier Baez at shortstop. Neither is likely to be traded unless another team is willing to dramatically overpay for one of them.
Young outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ will be targets for foes looking for big power and lower-priced, controllable contracts. Epstein loves all his players but understands the Cubs may have to part with a player or two they really like to address the missing elements on their team.
“To win the World Series, you have to be able to do a lot of things well,” Epstein said. “That was proved by us last year and underscored this season. You must play at a real high level, and many things must come together. Watching the Dodgers perform at a really high level is a nice reminder to us as to how high the bar is.”
The Cubs notably need starting pitching and bullpen help. They also could use a go-to lead-off hitter and more team speed.
“To go into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them, keeping an open mind to anything is appropriate,” Epstein said. “Under these circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable. We really benefited from having two or three extra starting players available on the roster. That helped us win the last few years. Sooner or later, you have to consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.