Recent Rosenthal Report Confirms What We Pretty Much Already Knew About Cubs’ Offseason Plans

When the weather turns cold as it invariably does this time of year, there’s nothing better than warming your hands by the radiant warmth of the hot stove. That the Cubs played November baseball for the first time in their history and won a World Series title for the first time in ours doesn’t completely satiate the hunger for offseason moves. So you’ll have to forgive those of us who have already been consumed by speculation on the various trades or signings that could/would/should go down.

As far as the Cubs are concerned, however, most of those transactions figure to remain in the fantasyland of the mind or in all manner of written appeals on various blogs and social media posts. Despite saying they didn’t plan to spend big on the bullpen, Kenley Jansen‘s name has been on more winter-dry lips than ChapStick. Then there’s the potential for yet another unlikely Dexter Fowler return after yet another career year on the North Side. Hey, it could happen.

But what seems ever more likely to happen is that the Cubs let someone else hand out a record contract to Jansen while they wish Fowler well as he accepts a four-year deal that will see him make good on his two years in Chicago. It’s not because they’re being cheap, though I can’t blame you for believing as much. Rather, it’s because they feel the resources necessary to sign one or both of those players would be better utilized elsewhere, if at all. Between what they’ve already got in the pantry and generic versions of the name-brand products that get top billing, the front office can still put a fine meal on the table.

Carl Edwards Jr. might be exactly what Jed Hoyer meant when he talked about finding the next Andrew Miller, a guy who bounced around as a failed starter before rising to dominance in a relief role. The String Bean Slinger has the same kind of serene demeanor evident in Kyle Hendricks, only with a very different skillset that includes some serious velocity. I looked at Edwards’ nigh-unhittable fastball back in August, and it appears that he was able to keep it up through the end of the season.

Closer isn’t the only spot in which the Cubs might be willing to turn the reins over to a promising prospect, what with Albert Almora potentially filling the gap left by Fowler. Theo Epstein has said that he’d like to find an experienced lefty-hitting center fielder in that case, someone to ease Almora’s transition into an everyday big leaguer. A recent blurb from Ken Rosenthal reinforces pretty much exactly what I’ve written about these topics.

The Cubs have done background work on free-agent closer Kenley Jansen, but their inquiries appear more a matter of due diligence than the foundation of a serious pursuit, major-league sources said.

Team officials repeatedly have said that their combined free-agent investment of $272 million last winter in Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey amounted to two offseasons worth of spending.

One thing the Cubs do want to add: a left-handed hitting center fielder to complement to Albert Almora Jr. The team wants to protect Almora next season, believing he will be more fully ready to emerge in 2018.

And that all makes sense, particularly when you look at the paragraph I removed from the above selection:

The last thing the Cubs want to do is overspend on a closer when it might cost them the chance to make a run next winter at Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani – or pursue other opportunities in the future.

Whoa, that would really be something. For those of you who aren’t aware, Otani is more than just The Next Big Thing. He’s Babe Ruth, a virtuoso on the mound who can mash with the best of them. He’s a bigger folk legend than Kyle Schwarber, which is what happens when you throw 102 mph and compile a 1.86 ERA in 20 starts while also batting .322 with 22 home runs as an outfielder. Dude hit a ball out of a domed stadium earlier this fall, for crying out loud.

Can you imagine handing Joe Maddon the keys to that car? It’d be like Travis Wood except really, really awesome and with sleeves.

But that’s all too far in the future to take up much of my already limited mental faculties, which is why I want to focus instead on the assertion that the Cubs might be either strapped financially or that they’re planning for 2018 and punting on the upcoming season. Thing is, I don’t think that notion is all that wrong-headed.

Let me walk that back just a little bit before I continue. I don’t mean the Cubs can’t spend, only that they are taking a long view of this whole thing and are playing two and three moves (and probably years) ahead. While they’ve got money and are likely to find even more lying around in the future, that doesn’t mean they need to spend it now.

Then there’s the possibility that this talk is a red herring and that the Cubs really will try to land a big fish. Just don’t count on it. I have no doubt they’ll be active this offseason, but it’s unlikely to be for much more than ancillary pieces to flesh out the roster and answer a few questions here and there.

If that doesn’t satisfy your desires, well, I’m not sure what to tell you other than there’s a reason the Cubs front office is the Cubs front office and you and I are having this one-sided conversation. I guess you could be talking back to me or to yourself or to no one in particular, though. Point is, the guys making the calls are slightly more well equipped to make them than we are. And I don’t see them making a big splash.

At the same time, I’m not ruling anything out. I’ve seen enough to know that the gap between improbable and impossible can easily be bridged by the right engineers.

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