(CBS) Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein’s season-ending press conference Thursday afternoon didn’t produce any surprises, and it reiterated what the top offseason priority is.
Adding another top-of-the-line starting pitcher.
“The topic sentence is we would like to add more quality pitching,” Epstein said a day after the Cubs were swept out of the NLCS by the Mets. “Anybody who follows the team knows that. We’ve been open and transparent about it, that we’re really building a foundation of young position players and that we’re going to trust ourselves to add pitching along the way and build really effective pitching staffs each year and over time add impact pitching.”
The big-name pitchers who will be available include David Price, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann — and perhaps Zack Greinke if he chooses to exercise an opt-out clause. The Cubs’ payroll hasn’t yet been set for 2016, Epstein said, but the Cubs are expected to be big players on the free-agent market.
“We want to continue to add impact pitching,” Epstein said. “We want to continue to add starting pitching depth at the big league level.
“We have to continue to be aggressive and add like we did last winter.”
Chicago got quality pitching from ace Jake Arrieta and No. 2 starter Jon Lester in the 2015 season. After that, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks were inconsistent, while the No. 5 spot was often a rotating cast of characters.
Epstein lauded the team for having baseball’s third-best team ERA but still wants more depth.
“Free agent pitching is a necessary evil a lot of times, and it’s only evil because it’s inherently risky,” Epstein said. “But it’s necessary because you can make such an impact with your starting staff right away by fishing in those waters. We did it last year (with Lester). We’re glad we did. We’ll certainly take a hard look at all the free-agent starters this year.”
In other areas of offseason focus, Epstein pointed out the Cubs need to improve defensively in the outfield and get better at situational hitting, as the Cubs were one of the worst teams in the majors at driving home runners from third base with less than two outs — in part because of their propensity to strike out.
Position-wise, Epstein stressed that he likes the young players’ versatility to play multiple spots defensively. No long-term, set-in-stone decisions have been made for where players like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber will play. The “presumption” entering the offseason is that Schwarber will again get reps at catcher and in the outfield next year, until the Cubs are more certain of his best long-term fit for the team, Epstein said.
The Cubs “certainly” want to talk have a sit-down with center fielder Dexter Fowler in free agency, Epstein said, though many variables would need to align for him to return to Chicago.
As for Arrieta — who’s under club control through 2017 — Epstein said the Cubs would be “foolish” over the course of the next two years to not try and sign him long-term. Arrieta’s represented by powerful agent Scott Boras.
The entire Cubs coaching staff under the direction of manager Joe Maddon has been invited back. To date, the assistant coaches haven’t been approached by other teams, Epstein said, though that could change.
“Opening day can’t get here soon enough,” Epstein said, looking forward.