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Chicago Cubs

Cubs president Theo Epstein explains slow free-agent market

Cubs Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant team up for a TV interview during opening night of the 33rd annual Cubs Convention on Friday night in Chicago.
Cubs Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant team up for a TV interview during opening night of the 33rd annual Cubs Convention on Friday night in Chicago.

CHICAGO – Another Cubs convention has come and gone, and my oh my, they certainly have evolved over the years. 

We’ve gone from fans almost in tears at the idea that the Cubs might trade Todd Walker to fans now asking about “spin rates” and “core competencies.” 

Despite the Cubs falling short of the World Series last year, the mood over the weekend was upbeat, and why not? The organization has reached the point where it should contend year in and year out. And if you get into the playoffs, you have a chance. 

The Cubs run a good convention, covering everything baseball and business. Here are a few topics, notes and quotes that stood out.

Where is the market?

This has been one of the slowest-developing free-agent markets in years. The Cubs struck early, signing pitchers Tyler Chatwood, Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek and others. 

When winters come up high and dry, talk naturally turns to collusion among teams. There’s so much money in the game, and the penalty for collusion is so severe, that owners would be downright dumb to break the rules. 

Cubs people downplayed talk of collusion, and team president Theo Epstein provided an explanation for the slow market.

“It’s a number of factors,” Epstein said. “Every team has to make decisions in their own best interests. That’s what’s going on. There are some macroeconomic trends in the game. Probably, after the last collective-bargaining agreement, teams are just trying to position themselves the best way they can, probably with one eye on next year’s free-agent market and trying to get their payroll where they want.

“It’s hard to say there’s any one reason. It’s probably a combination of factors. I don’t know that we’ve ever seen anything quite like this.”

They said it

The question-and-answer sessions with fans always produce some good one-liners and rejoinders from the panelists. 

When asked about the Cubs upgrading the decrepit visitors clubhouse, chairman Tom Ricketts said: “We’re thinking about adding some hot water this year.”

Epstein was asked about coming up with a Bryce Harper jersey for the impending free agent from the Washington Nationals.

“Ask Kris Bryant,” Epstein said, referring to the Cubs’ star third baseman and Harper’s Las Vegas buddy. “He seems to have quite a few.”

One fan asked manager Joe Maddon about bunting more.

“Why do you want to bunt so much, brother?” Maddon responded, adding that No. 2 hitters aren’t the light-hitting Dal Maxvill anymore. 

When asked what his favorite road trip was, Maddon answered: “Barcelona, Spain.

“I’m all for expansion to Europe.”

Grow your own

One of the thorns in the sides of Cubs baseball management is the few number of innings tossed by pitchers they’ve drafted/signed and developed. Part of that is by design, as the Cubs went with position players in the first rounds of the Epstein-era drafts. 

A young fan pointed out that since 2012, “the Cubs have had just 30 innings from pitchers they’ve drafted.”

On the current 40-man roster, pitchers the Cubs have drafted/signed and developed are Adbert Alzolay (no big-league experience), Oscar De La Cruz (no big-league experience), Dillon Maples (drafted by the previous regime), Jen-Ho Tseng, Duane Underwood (no big-league experience) and Rob Zastryzny. 

“That stat about 30 innings is a little misleading,” Epstein said. “We did trade for Kyle Hendricks when he was in low-A ball. Zack Godley we did draft, and he was traded away (to Arizona). We’ve had pitchers we’ve developed and have gone on to have success in the big leagues.”

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