The Rundown: Epstein Talks Finances, Former Cubs Infielder Luis Valbuena Passes Away, Cubs Finalize Coaching Staff

If I’m Theo Epstein, I probably regret saying that the Cubs offense is “broken.” That narrative has been driving team news and speculation since the first week of October, and though the Cubs boss has always been very transparent, I’d bet he wishes he would have stifled that thought.

He didn’t exactly back off of or unwind that statement in yesterday’s pre-Winter Meetings media scrum, though he did buffer it substantially.

“If you look at the amount of money committed on this year’s team,” Epstein said, “and what our payroll will be next year and how talented our team will be, I think it will be an afterthought once we start playing baseball if we do our jobs.”

Maybe Epstein had a different agenda in mind during his end-of-season eulogy. Perhaps he was simply trying to motivate his manager and his young players.

It appears everything we’ve read and heard regarding the team’s budget going into the offseason is true. So if you are expecting the front office to make a big splash in free agency next week, the odds would seem to be against the type of spending to which Cubs fans have become accustomed. 

“We have to find value and efficiency on the roster,” Epstein said. “As we’ve moved into this phase, where [the core players] are making real money in arbitration and there are other long-term commitments on the way, including ones that are not returning great value for the commitment, [we knew] that it would become increasingly challenging.”

If that isn’t obvious enough, the Cubs president drove it home a little more succinctly:

In other words, the most important decision the team has made this offseason to fix their broken offense was to replace their hitting coach. Epstein made it very clear after the season he was dissatisfied with Chili Davis. It’s plainly obvious that the Cubs – barring anything surprising – intend to go to battle in 2019 with pretty much the same team that won 95 games in 2018. 

Free Agent Profile: Adam Jones

In 2018, Adam Jones had his worst season offensively since 2010. He failed to reach 20 home runs for the first time in seven seasons, and he also declined defensively.  A four-time Gold Glove winner, the free agent center fielder has drawn poor marks in the outfield for the past three seasons and is probably now better suited to play a corner.

The Orioles and Phillies had a deal for Jones in place at last season’s trade deadline, but the veteran used his 10-5 rights to decline the trade because he did not want to be a platoon player going into his walk year. He’ll take a pretty hefty pay cut this season (Jones earned $17.3M last season), but can still provide value at the right price and if placed in the right situation.

The market for outfielders isn’t very robust, and Jones may have to sit through several signings and potential trades before he finds a home. He’s going into his age-34 season, and ideally a team that could play him in the outfield and as a designated hitter would be the best scenario for the five-time all-star. The Braves may take a flier, but the Indians may offer Jones enough at bats where he can somewhat resurrect his career.

Handicapping Jones: Indians, White Sox, Rangers, Blue Jays, Braves

  • Note: This is my last free agent profile for this winter.

Cubs News & Notes

A sad note: Former Cubs infielder Luis Valbuena and former major leaguer José Castillo were killed in a car accident overnight in Venezuela, according to Cardenales de Lara, the Winter League team they played for.

I enjoy reading Patrick Mooney of The Athletic. But on December 4, he posted a teaser article about Bryce Harper, saying the Cubs may be lurking in the shadows as a potential buyer. Then he published an article saying that the team was a long shot, at best, to sign the free-agent outfielder. You’ll need a subscription to read both pieces, and hopefully you’ll come away less confused than I am.

The Cubs finalized their coaching staff yesterday. Tommy Hottovy has been named pitching coach, Terrmel Sledge has been named assistant hitting coach, and former Cub Chris Denorfia assumes the role of quality assurance coach.

Brandon Morrow had elbow surgery last month and will likely miss the beginning of the season. I would assume Pedro Strop will be named interim closer, but we’ll have to wait until Joe Maddon anoints him with that title. The Cubs may decide to rotate relievers into that role as games warrant, however.

The Cubs have reportedly shown an interest in free agent relief pitcher Joakim Soria. Soria pitched for the White Sox last season before being traded to the Brewers on July 26th.

Despite everything we have read and heard, until Harper signs elsewhere, the Cubs still have to be counted among the contenders.

Epstein said he anticipated the Cardinals would make a move to acquire a middle-of-the-order presence:

Friday Stove

Tim Tebow will start next season with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs and Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said the former NFL quarterback is now “one step away” from the big leagues

Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins took off the gloves Wednesday and singled out veteran shortstop Troy Tulowitzki as a player who would have to “overachieve” if he wants to be an everyday player for Toronto.

More Jays notes from the same article: While the team might not be aggressively shopping starting pitchers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, Atkins said there is a strong market for either young pitcher. Both players regressed significantly in 2018 due to injury.

The Indians announced that they have signed right-hander Carlos Carrasco to a contract extension. Carrasco has been one of the Cleveland starters mentioned in trade talk this offseason.

Another notable starting pitcher is off the board, as the world-champion Boston Red Sox have re-signed Nathan Eovaldi. The right-hander received a four-year contract worth $68 million dollars.

Now that Eovaldi and Patrick Corbin are off the board, the Yankees will focus on signing J.A. Happ in order to further buttress their rotation. Don’t rule out a trade for Madison Bumgarner or one of Cleveland’s starters, either.

The Reds badly need to re-engage their fan base and stem their steep attendance declines. Cincy could be surprising spenders this winter, and have their sites locked in on targets A.J. Pollock and Dallas Keuchel.

Extra Innings

More hot takes from former Marlins’ president David Samson: 

On the Marlins’ one year with Barry Bonds as their hitting coach (2017), Samson told Dan Le Batard: “I’m trying to think if I ever had a worse hitting coach in my career than Barry Bonds. [Pause for comedic effect] Hold on. I’m thinking. No. You know why Magic Johnson was a bad coach? He didn’t have patience for people who didn’t see the court the way he saw it. Barry Bonds can’t teach hitting because he just hits.”

Samson also said agent Scott Boras’s handling of Jose Fernandez’s death was “a joke;” he called Marlins pitcher Wei Yin Chen “one of the top five worst signings ever;” and added, among other astonishing tidbits, that the Marlins never pursued Alex Rodriguez as a player in the late stages of his career because “there was no possible way anyone could be worse for your team.”

 Friday Walk Up Song

Remember the Time by Michael Jackson. The video features cameos by supermodel Iman, comedian Eddie Murphy, and NBA star Magic Johnson.  It’s number 16 on my Top 20 list. A rumor exists that Jackson received the very first romantic kiss of his life during the filming of this video, when he kissed Iman. Jackson was 35 years old at the time.

Michael Canter

Favorite Quote: "Look Ma! Top of the World!" Cubs fan since I was five years old (1969): lover of B&W movies, the Oxford Comma, classic rock, and of course, baseball; annual roto-champ; partial insomniac; I detest the liberal use of the word 'albeit' by baseball writers; Nice guy, though somewhat brooding. Comment me, please and thank you.

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