For all the talk about how the Cubs have improved their front office this off-season, there has been little discussion as to how the team’s new brain-trust plans to improve the playing roster. Sure President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer have offered hints as to how they plan to improve upon a roster that lost 92 games last season. Epstein says that the focus will be on finding talent, no matter what level that player is at, and Hoyer is determined to the improve the pitching staff. Together, those two focus areas for the Cubs’ front office should allow them to have a successful off-season.
But up to this point the Cubs have yet to be linked to any free agents, or possible trade targets. Considering that team has been occupied over recent weeks with finalizing the changes made to the front office, and now the search for a new manager, there has been little time available to Epstein and Hoyer to pursue players that may interest them. However, the front office tandem is beginning to look at potential targets. And their first target, may be a player that who was not a part of any major league organization last season.
It has long been the goal of Cubs’ owner Tom Ricketts to increase the Cubs presence the Dominican Republic. Ricketts and the Cubs’ organization are in the earlier stages of developing a first-class facility in the Dominican that will allow the Cubs to scout international prospects, as well as a facility for Dominican prospects and prospects within the Cubs’ farm system. The hope is with the Cubs’ increased participation in the daily life of Dominican prospects, that should make them a more desirable location for players that hope to make the transition to the Major Leagues from the Dominican.
One player looking to make that transition this winter is outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes’ reputation over the past couple of weeks has skyrocketed, in large part due to a showcase video that was made public on Youtube. Cespedes thrived in during the Cuban Baseball season as the outfielder had an OPS of 1.000 with 30 home runs in 90 games. Cespedes has also been praised as this generation’s best prospect to come from the Dominican Republic. The early expectation is that the Cespedes will receive a deal that is similar if not greater in value than the contract that the Cincinnatti Reds gave pitcher Aroldis Chapman last season. Chapman signed a six year, $3o million contract with the Reds last off-season.
The Cubs payroll flexibility for the winter has not been made public yet. Though, the common theme among Epstein and Hoyer is that the team will not enter a rebuilding phase, and the goal is to compete every season. It is my belief that Epstein and Hoyer have been assured by Ricketts that team will not be financially handcuffed in making moves this winter. In that case, the Cubs should be able to pursue Cespedes at his current price.
The biggest roadblock to Cespedes joining the Cubs may be the fact that the Cubs may not have an opening in their outfielder. Before the 2012 season starts, it seems likely that either center fielder Marlon Byrd or left fielder Alfonso Soriano will be traded. Rather than filling that potential opening by a trade or free agent signing, the expectation is that top prospect Brett Jackson will be fill that void left by Byrd or Soriano. Though, the Cubs could have an opening in right field. Tyler Colvin–who some of you may have forgotten about–has done little to lock down the right field position for the long-term. Though even if Colvin is not the answer, another top prospect Matt Szczur is not too far behind Jackson and Szczur could be on the major league team before the 2012 season ends.
Recent reports have suggested that the Cubs will try to make an attempt to sign Cespedes. Bleacher Nation cited sources that believe that the Cubs are among the teams monitoring Cespedes. There has also been reports and tweets to suggest that the Cubs are “intrigued” by the idea of signing Cespedes, and the outfielder could have a bright future with the organization. If the goal is to bring in talented players, then Epstein and Hoyer will likely make a push towards signing Cespedes. He arguably could have the highest amount of talent and potential of any other free agent with the exceptions being Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.