Cubs using Meetings to explore many options
Club meets with Pujols' agent, who also represents Lopez
DALLAS -- Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, did meet with the agent for Albert Pujols on Monday. But before Wrigleyville stores start printing No. 5 jerseys for 2012, keep in mind that agent Dan Lozano also represents Rodrigo Lopez, whom the Cubs would like to return to give them pitching depth.
"You see [Lozano] going into someone's room, it's not always that you're there to talk about the Big Kahuna," Epstein said.
That's the nature of the Winter Meetings, which officially got under way Monday at the Hilton Anatole with lots of talk, and not a lot of action.
The Cubs do need a first baseman, but Pujols and the multi-year mega deal he's seeking doesn't appear to fit with what Epstein & Co. are trying to do. Bryan LaHair might. Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer met with LaHair, who was at the Meetings to receive an award Monday after leading all of the Minor Leagues with 38 home runs at Triple-A Iowa.
No promises were made to LaHair, who still has a few more weeks to play in Venezuela.
"We told him we appreciate the things he can do as a player and asked him to concentrate on certain elements of his game as well, and said we look forward to seeing him in Spring Training," Epstein said.
At least LaHair is an option. As far as third base, Epstein said, they "have internal candidates more than definite internal solutions."
Jeff Baker, DJ LeMahieu, Josh Vitters and Junior Lake are on the Cubs' roster as options at third. There were reports the Cubs had talked to the Rockies about Ian Stewart, and Epstein said they've put a few feelers out.
"We're not close to anybody," Epstein said.
Stewart batted .156 in 48 games last season with the Rockies and .275 in 45 games with Triple-A Colorado Springs.
There has been no talk about moving Starlin Castro from short to third. Castro led the National League with 207 hits but also made 29 errors.
"He's got the physical tools, and we'll need to round out his development there," Epstein said. "I also think defense is an area in which you absolutely 100 percent can get better with hard work.
"Absolutely, we see him as our shortstop of the future -- our shortstop of the present and future," he said.
If they can't find another infielder, Epstein said they'd be comfortable giving LaHair the opportunity to get most of the time at first. LaHair, 29, has 195 big league at-bats, and most of those were in 2008 with the Mariners.
"I tend not to buy into the concept of the '4A hitter,'" Epstein said. "If you can dominate at the Triple-A level and get on base and hit for power there and in so doing demonstrate you can handle different kinds of pitching and cover the entire strike zone, I think given enough time, he'll contribute at the Major League level.
"We're not giving him the job, and I'm not saying we're not looking to upgrade at first base," Epstein said. "If it ends up with him playing a significant role or getting a significant opportunity, I think we'd all be comfortable with that."
The Cubs did offer Carlos Pena arbitration, but expect the first baseman will likely sign a multi-year deal with another team.
"He's put himself in the position for multi-year suitors," Epstein said. "By offering him arbitration, we're not closing the door, but we are exploring all of our options at first base."
Pena, who hit .225 with 28 homers and 80 RBIs, is expected to decline arbitration. He has until Wednesday at 10:59 p.m. CT to decide.
"He'd be an asset to the Cubs or any other team," Epstein said.
With starting pitching still a pressing need, the Cubs talked this offseason to representatives for free agent C.J. Wilson. However, the lefty, who went 16-7 with the Rangers, also is seeking a four-year deal. Signing Wilson would be a major statement, but Epstein, who has been on the job for two months, doesn't feel the need to make a blockbuster deal.
"Five years from now, 10 years from now, if we look back on this and say we made any move for any reason other than it's in the best short-, medium- and long-term interest of the Cubs, we'd have a hard time sleeping at night," he said. "This is hard enough. If you try to serve perception as well as reality, you'll end up hurting yourself long term. We have to work really hard to figure out what's in the Cubs' best interests."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.