Three weeks ago, Cubs executives worked on two fronts, roughly 2,800 miles apart.
Team president Theo Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts traveled to Miami and met with Anibal Sanchez, his wife and his agent. They laid out the organizations baseball and business plans for the next several years.
Three time zones away, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum made a sales pitch that same day to Edwin Jackson and his fiance in Newport Beach, Calif. Greg Genskethe agent Jackson selected after splitting with Scott Boras last yearhosted in his Orange County office.
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If that sounded like a full-court pressfrom the Atlantic to Pacific oceansthen the rest of this winter could be a Four Corners offense.
A little more than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, impact players like Michael Bourn, Rafael Soriano, Kyle Lohse and Adam LaRoche have been dragged down by the one-year, 13.3 million qualifying offers made under the new collective bargaining agreement.
Sanchez became exempt once he was traded midseason from the Miami Marlins to the Detroit Tigers. The Cubs already have their No. 2 overall pick protected, but would have to give up their second-round pick and part of their signing-bonus pool to sign a free agent like Bourn.
Epstein didnt sound eager to make that trade-off while speaking broadly Thursday night on WEEIs Hot Stove Show.
There arent multiple paths into the amateur marketplace anymore, Epstein told the Boston radio station. In the past, you could give up a high pick and realize you were going to overpay someone later on. You could give up a couple draft picks and realize that youd just go out and try to dominate international free agency that year. You just dont have the ability to do those things anymore.
So when you surrender a draft pick and the pool space that goes with it, youre really admitting that youre not going to have as impactful a draft that year as you would otherwise, and thats something thats really hard to do, given the price of free agents these days and just how meaningful it is to develop your own talent and have that player under control for six years.
Its really hard to say: Hey, were trying to build a healthy organization, but were going to do it while admitting our draft is not going to be quite as impactful this year.
Youre seeing a real premium placed on the draft picks and the pool space that goes with it for good reason. But I think its a little bit unfortunate the effect its had on certain free agents when theres no rhyme or reason to it. I feel like the single best thing that can happen to a prospective free agent in his platform year is getting traded, because it removes the burden of the draft-pick compensation.
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The labor deal has handcuffed teams looking to spend big on amateur talent, while slashing the overall number of compensation picks. So Epstein will value that second-round pick as what would have been a high sandwich pick under the old system, but wouldnt reveal how the Cubs will allocate it.
I dont want to talk specifically about the remaining free agents or our plans in general, but Ill say you cant be dogmatic about it, Epstein told WEEI. Clearly, there are major-league free agents who are talented enough to justify surrendering a first-round pick and certainly a second-round pick. Youre acquiring the asset.
It all depends onnot just the playerbut the contract and then potentially what you could get out of the player in terms of contributions on the field or a potential trade down the road.
Hoyer wouldnt speculate about whether the Cubs would be willing to make that sacrifice. But Hoyer acknowledged that it didnt hurt the case for Jackson, who never received a qualifying offer from the Washington Nationals and welcomed the security of a four-year, 52 million contract.
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It certainly was an attractive thing, Hoyer said. If you look at the trend of the market, a lot of the players that didnt have draft-pick compensation have gone off the board already. It wasnt the reason we were attracted to him, but it was certainly a nice factor.
Of course, the Cubs will continue working on more deals. They need another outfielder and a utility guy and could upgrade the bullpen. Sure, theyre always willing to listen on Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol. Theyre not viewed as having a match for Rick Porcello, the 24-year-old pitcher who became expendable when Sanchez signed a five-year, 80 million deal with Detroit.
Hoyer indicated nothing (is) close as he spoke with a small group of reporters near the end of Jacksons introductory press conference on Wednesday at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs arent going to feel desperate or trick themselves into thinking theyre one piece away. Bourn, Soriano and Lohse are Boras clients, and the super-agent preys upon those impulses.
The Cubs are searching for offense, and willing to see which players could fall to them in January. Bourn can play Gold Glove defense in center, but remember that hes 30 years old, his game is built on speed and he reportedly began the offseason looking for something close to a 100 million contract.
It wasnt quite Lovie Smith and the Bears saying Rex is our quarterback. But Hoyer was asked a straightforward question: Do you look at Nate Schierholtz as your regular right fielder?
Yeah, right now, Hoyer said. Hes certainly going to play a ton for us. We feel like hes a guy thats been undervalued, a guy that with more at-bats can really thrive. (After) playing in the NL West, playing 100 games in tough hitters ballparksI think he can certainly thrive out of that environment. As we look at our roster today, hed play in right, probably in some kind of platoon.
The Cubs arent expected to make any more big investments in pitching this winter. Once Carlos Villanuevas two-year, 10 million deal becomes official, they could have as many as eight options for the 2013 rotation (though they realize they were talking up their depth last January before it got shredded).
Hoyer laughed after being asked for an update on Matt Garza (elbow), who has vowed to be ready for spring training.
Just got to follow him on Twitter, Hoyer said. Its all been good so far. He seems really happy and in some ways Im relying on his moods and how he feels about it. And hes been excited about his progress.
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Garza and Jackson were part of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays team that went from worst to first. Its almost certainly going to be a more gradual process for the Cubs. But this is the time of year where Epstein and Hoyer are going to look at finishing touches and see whats possible.
You look at the team on paper, theres a lot of potential, Jackson said. Ive been on a lot of teams (where) nobody expected you to do anything and you end up going to the World Series. (This is) definitely one of those teams where (youre) a few pieces away from being where you want to be. With the additions (weve made), the team that we have right now, we can go out and win ballgames and have fun and definitely have the city of Chicago behind us.