CHICAGO — It’s that time of year again, when team officials talk and talk and talk but rarely say much about their plans in advance of the trade deadline. Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon and executives Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein are no different. Once in a while, there’s some reading between the lines, but on Tuesday, Hoyer and Epstein addressed needs for the team before the Aug. 1 deadline, but neither told us anything we didn’t already know.
Maddon was asked if he expected any additions. You could almost predict what was coming.
“Whoof,” Maddon sighed. “Dexter [Fowler], Jorge [Soler], [Joe] Nathan. We have a lot of guys from within. I can’t tell you absolutely there will be anyone coming from outside. We have stuff here already we have to evaluate and look at.”
Maddon reeled off two injured players and one rehabbing in the minors. Here’s how Hoyer addressed the question a little later.
“I don’t think you make all those phone calls or send all those text messages and work all those hours if you’re not serious about making a deal,” he said. “But we’re only going to make a deal that makes our product better right now.”
His second sentence is what they all say: “only if it makes us better.” That doesn’t need to be stated, but it always is.
Hoyer’s first thought gives some insight. The Cubs are working the phones, which perhaps makes a deal more likely than not. What also makes a deal more likely is common sense. They still don’t employ a left-hander — or righty — who can get lefty batters out on a consistent basis. Travis Wood has given the Cubs everything he has, but it might not be enough come October, when Daniel Murphy or Bryce Harper is at the plate.
“That’s certainly the area we’re going to continue to look at, but we feel better about it than we did before the break, simply because they’re able to catch their breath,” Hoyer said of his bullpen.
Rested or not, the Cubs don’t have enough in their pen to feel comfortable, so expect an upgrade. The only question is how big.
“When you do something like that, it has to be obvious the guy is going to help,” Maddon said. “I’ve been involved in situations where I’ve brought someone in to help, and there was already people in place, and the guy coming in wasn’t really an upgrade. I don’t believe that will happen here, but if you don’t, then there can be a dissenting moment within the clubhouse. I’ve been part of that.”
That is why a bullpen arm makes more sense than a starter, with the caveat that if now is the time for the Cubs to get younger in their rotation — even if the piece isn’t any better than what they have — they might pull the trigger.
There’s no such debate in the pen. Almost any left-hander who is having a good season with another team would be an upgrade for the Cubs. Where and how you pitch an additional starter is a lot tougher to figure out than where a new relief arm fits into the staff. But Hoyer isn’t fretting the details.
“I still think you can never have enough pitching,” he said. “You have to anticipate you’re going to need more pitching.”
As for the Kyle Schwarber question, how many times does the front office have to quash any talk of trading him? They’ve done it numerous times on radio, television and online. Hoyer did so again Tuesday, but of course, some will read into the first part of this statement instead of the last:
“You can’t have untouchables, and you have to be willing to explore bold ideas,” Hoyer said. “That said, we really like our core. That’s something we plan to build around.”
As for Maddon, he has to walk a fine line. Sometimes the needs are obvious — the bullpen currently — but even then, by admitting it, he admitted that there are guys in his clubhouse he would like to replace. No manager wants to send that message to the locker room, so he talks in abstracts.
“If it’s obvious it’s an upgrade, absolutely,” Maddon said. “If something shows up, we’ll work with that person. Otherwise, we’ll work with what we have.”
Then there is the chemistry issue. It’s hard to know who wouldn’t be a good fit with the Cubs. They have such a strong clubhouse that conforming is about the only thing a newcomer can do. That includes Aroldis Chapman, who comes with some baggage. Privately and publicly, Cubs players have indicated no problem with bringing him on. Hoyer, of course, didn’t tip his hand.
“You have to make sure when you’re adding [that] you’re really adding and not taking away based on the wrong move from a chemistry standpoint,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to be active, but I do like the team we have on the field.”
Like he would say anything else.