The Cubs have done all the hard work. They've built a model farm system that's loaded with elite and highly developed prospects. They've hired a fearless leader, former Rays manager Joe Maddon, to help develop that talent while injecting some hope and optimism into the organization. Given the abundance of near-league minimum contracts on the big league roster, they're also set financially. Now, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have one last task ahead of them: bringing in the right veteran talent to complete the championship equation.
Epstein discussed his willingness to do just that while appearing on 670 The Score's Mully and Hanley Show on Tuesday morning. His outlook for the organization's future should excite Cubs fans.
"Over the next 18 months or so, I think you're going to see some elite veteran talent added to this organization to really complement the young developing core that we have," Epstein said. "And that should put us in a position to be really competitive."
Hours after Epstein said those very words, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported that the Cubs are targeting catcher Russell Martin, who becomes a free agent this offseason after a career-best offensive year and another strong season at catcher.
Martin is known for his receiving skills behind the plate—framing and pitch calling, most notably—as much as for his bat. After a few down seasons offensively, he broke out with a .402 on-base percentage last season, along with a 136 OPS+ (both of which were career highs) and 67 RBI in just 379 at-bats. Acquiring Martin would make plenty of sense for a Cubs team that is already making a concerted effort to develop its young players with the signing of Maddon.
Of course, after a championship drought of epic proportions, Cubs fans will be eager to see success as soon as humanly possible. But Epstein realizes that even with his team's financial flexibility and the options on the market, he and Hoyer don't have to make all the right moves now. In fact, the Cubs would be better served taking it one decision at a time, Theo believes.
"We're not going to rush and try to do it all in one offseason," he said. "Last thing you want to do is make investments that aren't wise just because you're trying to make a statement or you're trying to speed things up."
That doesn't mean, however, that the Cubs will stand pat during the next few months. Far from it, actually.
"There's plenty of talent out there this winter, and because we have so many young players and so many players making close to league minimum, we have a lot of payroll flexibility," Epstein said. "I'm sure we'll use some of that this winter.
Aside from Martin, the Cubs have been linked to left-hander Jon Lester, who is one of three elite starters (along with Max Scherzer and James Shields) to hit the market this offseason. As the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer notes, Lester and the Cubs have "strong mutual interest" and should "engage in serious talks this winter."
The limiting factor isn't necessarily the Cubs' willingness to spend on these top players, but rather to spend as much as it'll require to outbid other teams. Because the demand for Lester and Martin figures to be so high, the Cubs might have to engage in bidding wars with deep-pocketed teams (i.e. the Red Sox), which Wittenmyer says is unlikely because the Cubs "don't believe they are at the stage where they need a specific player to win who would make them go Yankee-crazy on a bid if it reaches uncomfortable territory."
Wittenmyer throws out several other names in his article—Jason Hammel, Brett Anderson, Shields, Jonny Gomes and David Robertson—but it's anyone's guess as to who they'll actually bring on.
That said, signing Lester makes all the sense in the world. The Cubs need an elite starter to contend (Madison Bumgarner's heroics this October show just how important that is), and Lester's history with Epstein—the lefty won the clinching game of the 2007 World Series for Epstein's Sox—makes the fit almost too perfect. How much the Cubs are willing to compete financially with other organizations appears to be the only barrier.