Winter Will Heat Up for Cubs as GM Meetings Open

Before you pedants get all riled up, yes, I understand that it’s not technically winter. But with Chicago already dealing with snow and the glow of the season reduced to its last dying embers, I think we can set aside Gregorian definitions.

Things have grown quiet in Cubdom over the last few days, suspiciously so. Not that we expected the Cubs to make all their moves in one fell swoop as free agency opened last week, but they’ve done next to nothing outside of extending qualifying offers to Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis. That could change in a hurry as the GM meetings open Monday in Orlando.

At first blush, the gathering’s title makes it sound like baseball execs rubbing elbows and talking shop as they drink expensive scotch and joke about how close to reality the fans’ insane trade proposals really are. Oh, that was Phil Rogers and not just a fan? Whatever, you know what I meant.

Even though such a conclave insinuates trade talk, it further acts as the de facto start of “real” free agency, the point at which teams and players alike start getting more serious about how they’ll spend the 2018 season and beyond. Though they’ve stated their willingness to make deals involving players on the 25-man roster, the Cubs are more likely to make some moves with fewer moving parts first.

Think Alex Cobb, the former Rays starter who recently professed his affinity for Joe Maddon and Jim Hickey. The guy literally said that he and the Cubs might sit down and “hopefully come to a deal,” a statement that doesn’t leave much room for interpretation. Cobb’s got some red flags, but you figure his old pitching coach and manager are familiar enough with him to provide an honest assessment to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.

We’ve heard several other names connected to the Cubs already, among them Jake McGee and and Brandon Morrow. Bruce Levine specifically mentioned both relievers as targets and previous reports have linked them as well. Both have experience closing games and one of them — prepare yourself for a big shock, here — actually has Tampa ties. Yep, McGee was drafted by the Rays in 2004 and the lefty pitched for Maddon and/or Hickey from 2010-15 before moving on to Colorado.

The Rays connection is neither a coincidence nor a surprise, as Maddon has displayed fierce loyalty to his favorite people over the years. Members of the Cubs front office are suckers for sentimentality as well, though they’re not going to put emotion and history ahead of the team’s future. What they’ll do is attack the market with an eye toward covering as many of their bases as possible. A little added familiarity won’t hurt, though.

Morrow was a big part of a bullpen that imploded very publicly against the Astros in the World Series, but much of that was due to overuse. A former starter with only 828 1/3 innings pitched over parts of 11 seasons, the oft-injured righty has a low odometer and could help to solidify a Cubs ‘pen that looked at least as troubled as the Dodgers’ in the playoffs. Of course, he’d have to give up his jersey number —  he wears 17 — if that happened.

There are scores of other possibilities as well, from Lance Lynn to Andrew Cashner and so many more in between. Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood are highly intriguing buy-low possibilities, the kind I’d personally be very okay with the Cubs pursuing. A quick look through the top 80 free agents reveals several other reasonable options, quite a few of whom make sense in terms of both finances and fit.

It’s not going to be easy to sift through all the names to find the right mix of cost and talent, but I think this front office is up to the task. I’m just glad all I have to do is write about it, something that should get much easier as the hot stove finally starts to warm the chill in air.

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