By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The holiday season is upon us, as is the end of another year. That means that spring training is only two months away.
After garnering plenty of interest with new additions in free agency, the Cubs appear set to open the 2016 season with a new center fielder (Jason Heyward), second baseman (Ben Zobrist) and No. 3 starter (John Lackey). Add in right-hander Adam Warren — acquired in the Starlin Castro trade with the Yankees — as a potential back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, and you may be willing to bet this team is done adding to a mix that won 97 games and advanced to the NLCS in 2015.
That may well be the case. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein sounded like a man content with his 2016 club when he joined 670 The Scores’ Inside the Clubhouse show on Saturday morning.
“It can be uncomfortable to get all the attention this time of year,” Epstein said. “Usually the teams that get praised for what they do in December have time on their hands the next October. We are going to ignore all of that and feel confident we did the right thing for the club. We believe it was appropriate to be aggressive, given the roster composition, given that next year’s free agent class is not quite as good and our long-term outlook.”
The support of Cubs ownership and the business office was a key element in allowing Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer to move in on deals for Heyward ($184 million over eight years) and Zobrist ($56 million over four years). Both were last-minute offers that changed the dynamic of the team going forward. In the case of both players, it took a phone call to Ricketts to get the nod on funds above the 2016 baseball budget.
Looking ahead to any potential move, Epstein and Hoyer likely would have to make a trade that fits into the budget in order to add further. A big arm in the bullpen and one more starting pitcher would be ideal. A center fielder with plus defensive range and on-base percentage ability would be the topping on the holiday party cake for the North Siders.
Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez and Rays righty reliever Jake McGee would be the type of arms that would demand a plenty of controllable talent back from the Cubs. The Marlins, Rays and Padres are clubs looking to move salary and add young players. The Padres are listening to offers for starting pitchers James Shields and Tyson Ross.
Outfielder Jorge Soler is a valuable trade chip for the Cubs, but the team greatly values him and loves his power potential.
Epstein and the Cubs appear to be in a position of strength going forward. Chicago has added depth and versatility to a young, improving team, and it doesn’t have any gaping holes entering the season like it did entering 2015 with a lack of rotational depth.
“We are likely done,” Epstein said on Inside the Clubhouse. “Maybe a smaller move here or there. We have certainly considered some big moves in a variety of directions. Those moves are not that appealing right now. Right now, I like where we are, with the ability to open the season with a really talented roster that fits together.
“This gives us the ability to read and react. We can then see what the first half of the season brings. We can see how players react to positions that are relatively new to them. We can see how players improve who were with us, see what our starting rotation looks like. We have not touched our farm system yet. We will be in a position to make some nice adjustments midseason.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.