Cubs seeking 'quality' pitching on open market
Club also in search of closer; Bryant out to conquer upper levels in Minors
CHICAGO -- Now that the Cubs have a manager in place, the next step is to stock the roster, and Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, said they are in the market for more pitching.
"We need to add some quality," Epstein said Friday.
Rick Renteria was named the Cubs' 53rd manager on Thursday, and Epstein said they are in the process of determining the rest of the coaching staff. Pitching coach Chris Bosio may return, but nothing has been finalized.
Next week, Epstein will have face-to-face talks with representatives for free agents at the General Managers Meetings. The Cubs have traded 40 percent of their starting rotation the last two seasons, but Epstein said they are not looking for free agents who they can sign and then flip at the Trade Deadline.
"Every starting pitcher we acquire is someone we hope is starting Game 1 of the World Series for us," Epstein said.
Last offseason, the Cubs courted free agents Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson. Sanchez signed with the Tigers and went 14-8 with a 2.57 ERA in 29 starts, while Jackson agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal with the Cubs and finished 8-18 with a 4.98 ERA in 31 starts.
"We believe there's a lot better ahead for Edwin Jackson," Epstein said of the right-hander, who led the Majors in losses. "He stayed healthy for the entire season, he's still only 30 years old, and his underlying performance was better than the stat line that you read on the scoreboard, and he never quit. He's certainly somebody who can impact us and fill a rotation spot going forward."
Jackson will join Travis Wood, Jeff Samardzija and Jake Arrieta in the Cubs' 2014 rotation, but Epstein would like to add another starter. The Cubs will talk to Scott Baker, who spent the year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and now is a free agent, but the right-hander also is exploring other options.
Who will shut the door?
The Cubs also are in the market for a closer. After Carlos Marmol struggled and was then traded, and Kyuji Fujikawa was injured, Kevin Gregg stepped in and totaled 30-plus saves for the third time in his career. He's now a free agent and shopping around.
"We have guys who could close," Epstein said of the Cubs' in-house options, "but I think that's an opportunity for us. If you go to market with the closer's role ready to bestow on somebody, that can help you sign a pretty good pitcher and can help your club. ... We're going to hit the market with a full closing opportunity to offer to the right pitcher we acquire, either through free agency or a trade, and know we have some interesting options in house."
One of the players currently on the roster who could close is right-hander Pedro Strop, acquired from the Orioles in the Scott Feldman deal.
Next for Bryant? Double-A and Triple-A success
Kris Bryant, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in the June First-Year Player Draft and ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the organization, is making the most of his opportunity in the Arizona Fall League. The third baseman ranked among the AFL leaders in batting average, home runs and RBIs, but that won't guarantee him a spot on the Cubs' Opening Day roster.
Epstein said players are told they need to dominate at each level before they are moved up. Bryant has responded to that challenge, batting .354 at short-season Boise, then .333 at Class A Advanced Daytona. But the Cubs want to see that same effort at the Double-A and Triple-A levels.
"He's a very advanced college bat who put up historically good power production at the college level," Epstein said of Bryant, who led the nation in home runs at San Diego. "Traditionally if someone is going to come out of the Draft and dominate, it's that type of player, that elite position player."
Optimism taking root at Minor League level
The Cubs may not have won a World Series since 1908, but that hasn't dampened the enthusiasm among the Minor League players. Epstein said he was impressed by the morale of the young players during instructional league this fall.
"Our players fully believe in the 'Cubs Way,'" he said. "They believe in their instructors and each other."
Minor League field coordinator Tim Cossins led the instructional league players on a mountain climb in Arizona, and everyone took part.
"I believe in what we're teaching, how we're teaching it, and the amount our players are buying in and the progress we're making," Epstein said. "We need that to continue at the big league level. We need that kind of morale and belief and progress at the big league level. If we don't, we're going to fail."
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.