11/30/12 9:49 PM ET
Work remains for Cubs as Meetings draw closer
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Earlier this month, they signed free-agent pitchers Scott Baker and Scott Feldman to one-year deals and added backup catcher Dioner Navarro. General manager Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations, are looking for similar deals to fill the holes in the roster.
"You're always looking to find guys who can outperform their contracts and guys who can really provide value, and that's what we're looking for," Hoyer said.
The Cubs don't have a surplus of talent in their system to trade. Asked if anyone on the roster was considered untouchable, Hoyer said no.
"We lost 101 games last year," Hoyer said. "I don't think we're in position to say we have enough talent, or to say to any one player on the roster he's untouchable. We certainly have several players who we would have a hard time parting with and it would take a heck of a package to make it happen.
"In general, there shouldn't be many untouchables in the game and there usually aren't and I think they certainly shouldn't be on teams looking to acquire a lot of talent. I think the answer is no, but that's no disrespect to the players we have. We just need to acquire a lot of talent."
The Winter Meetings provide the Cubs' front office and scouts a chance to meet face to face, as well as provide an opportunity for them to talk to other teams and agents. It could be a busy week.
Third base: There are prospects in the Minor League system (Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Christian Villanueva) but none were believed to be ready for 2013. Luis Valbuena did sub well at third but is considered more of a utility player. Ian Stewart, projected as the starter last year, was non-tendered on Friday but could re-sign a Minor League deal and return. His season was cut short because of a wrist injury.
Pitching: The Cubs did add two starters by signing Baker and Feldman but would like more depth. Don't expect them to get involved in bidding for the high-priced players on the market, like a Zack Greinke. They would like to add more arms.
"We still look at it as an area of need," Hoyer said. "We're actively looking to improve our bullpen and we haven't been able to address that yet this winter with the exception of bringing back Shawn Camp."
Plus, because Baker and Arodys Vizcaino, acquired from the Braves in the Paul Maholm deal last July, are both coming off Tommy John surgery, and Matt Garza had his season shortened by an elbow injury, the Cubs need depth.
Outfield: With Brett Jackson expected to open the 2013 season at Triple-A Iowa, the Cubs would like to add a right fielder or preferably someone who could play center and right.
Bench: They need to find more Reed Johnson/Jeff Baker types who are versatile and can play multiple positions. One option may be Brian Bogusevic, who signed a Minor League deal.
Who they can or need to trade
OF Alfonso Soriano: This is debatable. Soriano carried the team offensively in 2012, leading the Cubs with 32 homers and a career-high 108 RBIs. He is owed $38 million over the next two years and turns 37 in January. Soriano did play better defensively but would be a nice fit for an American League team looking for a designated hitter. But the Cubs also like what Soriano has done, not just on the field but as far as helping young players develop.
RHP Carlos Marmol: The Cubs came close to dealing their closer for Dan Haren but pulled the offer off the table after checking the Angels' pitcher's medical records. The fact that the Cubs would move Marmol was interesting as there is no obvious replacement. Marmol converted 20 of 23 save opportunities in 2012 and appeared in his fewest games (61) since 2007. There aren't many save opportunities when a team loses 101 games.
Japanese pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa was considering the Cubs and even toured Wrigley Field. Hoyer would not comment on the negotiations or provide a timetable but did say they were impressed by the right-hander.
"If we bring in someone who has closing experience, or a number of guys who have closing experience, that's no knock on Carlos," Hoyer said. "I think every team in baseball wants to have an assortment of guys back there who, if the need arises, can pitch in the ninth inning. Hopefully we can do that."
The list includes outfielders Jorge Soler and Albert Almora; infielders Javier Baez, Lake, Logan Watkins, Villanueva, Jeimer Candelario and Dan Vogelbach; left-handed pitchers Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin, and right-handers Robert Whitenack and Trey McNutt. Watkins, Villanueva, Whitenack and McNutt were added to the 40-man roster.
Rule 5 Draft
One year ago, the Cubs selected right-handed pitcher Lendy Castillo in the Rule 5 Draft, but he was sidelined most of the season because of a left groin strain. The Cubs head into the Winter Meetings with a full 40-man roster, and would have to clear some space to add a player.
Big contracts they might unload
Soriano is owed $19 million each of the next two years, while Marmol is owed $9.8 million in 2013, the last year of his contract with the Cubs.
Garza ($9.5 million in 2012); RHP Jeff Samardzija ($2.64 million in 2012); LHP James Russell ($512,500 in 2012); Valbuena ($495,200 in 2012).
The Cubs have had payrolls topping $100 million each of the last five seasons and head into the Winter Meetings committed to $56 million for 10 players. There is room to add.
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.