With the Chicago Cubs eliminated from the postseason, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein addressed the media on Thursday afternoon and began to outline his vision for what the offseason will hold for the Cubs.
“The topic sentence is ‘we would like to add more quality pitching,’” he said to the assembled media at Wrigley Field. “We’re really building with a foundation of young position players, and we’re going to trust ourselves to add pitching along the way. We need pitching. That’s obvious.”
The Cubs had a solid starting staff during the regular season, and their bullpen performed well in the playoffs, but their downfall ultimately was the pitching staff struggling in the playoffs. After Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta faltered in the first two games of the NLCS against the New York Mets, Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel were unable to pick up the slack in the final two contests at Wrigley Field, and Epstein was asked whether the team would address adding another starter in free agency.
“Free agent pitching is a necessary evil at times,” he said. “It’s only evil because it’s inherently risky, but it’s necessary because you can make such an impact on your starting staff right away. I’m not going to rule anything out or anything in, but we’d like to add at least one quality starting pitcher this winter.”
The main questions after the NLCS defeat surround Hammel, who surrendered four first inning runs in the Cubs’ 8-3 loss to the Mets on Wednesday. Hammel also struggled in a big way after the All-Star break, putting his status in the rotation in doubt.
Epstein dismissed those rumblings, saying that the team’s intent is to keep Hammel in the rotation for next season.
“Jason had an All-Star caliber first half,” he said. “Maybe if we handled (his calf injury) in a different way, the second half would’ve been different. He is that guy that you saw in the first half when he’s 100 percent and locked in, and it’s our job to get him that way for the first week of the season next year.”
The Cubs are pretty well set in terms of position players, but there is a big question mark in center field as Dexter Fowler prepares to hit free agency. The Cubs have not offered Fowler a new contract, but Epstein did not rule out trying to bring back the outfielder that they acquired in an offseason trade with the Houston Astros before the 2015 season.
“He fit in tremendously well in this organization, and he made a wonderful impression,” he said. “He’s a free agent, and he’s earned that status. We’ll see what the future holds, but certainly there’s interest in sitting down and seeing if there’s a way to keep him as a Chicago Cub.”
With the team preparing to go their separate ways in the offseason, Epstein also offered hints as to what the club will focus on when they re-convene in Mesa, Arizona for spring training in February.
“I think we can get better as a situational hitting team and as a contact hitting team,” he said. “Controlling the running game will be a big emphasis in spring training. I think we could generally improve our outfield defense. We certainly know which elements we’d like to add to the team to make us more well-rounded.”