By Gordon Wittenmyer
After hiring a big-shot manager with a track record of success in October, the Cubs must be ready to go all-in on the free-agent market that opened for business Monday night. Right?
Not so fast.
“Having Joe [Maddon] here doesn’t necessarily change our plans this winter,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We’re out to add talent. It might make it a little easier. Joe has a great reputation in the game. I know players want to play for him.”
The Cubs and top-target left-hander Jon Lester have strong mutual interest, according to multiple sources, and are certain to engage in serious talks this winter. But 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.
Former Cub Jason Hammel remains in the mix as the team looks to add a couple of starters. Left-hander Brett Anderson, whose $12 million option was declined by the Rockies, also is on the radar as a buy-low option after pitching well in nine starts during a season in which he underwent finger and back surgeries.
And Royals free-agent right-hander James Shields, who raved about Maddon when asked during the World Series, is in the mix, too, as a potential fallback position to Lester.
Maddon’s experience in getting young teams with the Rays to believe and win might mitigate some of the need the Cubs believe they have for veteran clubhouse leadership.
But Pirates catcher Russell Martin, who figures to be one of the more sought-after position players on the market, is highly coveted by the Cubs. Their biggest fear is — as in the case with Lester — a bidding war for Martin might be too rich for their blood.
Widely respected Athletics free agent Jonny Gomes, a platoon outfielder, also is on the Cubs’ radar.
And the team will at least kick the tires of Yankees free-agent closer David Robinson.
But the sudden hiring of a name manager doesn’t speed up anything the Cubs had planned this winter, they said.
“Any time you have a chance to get Joe Maddon you do it,” Epstein said. “And maybe it was a year before the anticipated [effort to] bring in a manager who had more of a track record to win games, if indeed we were going to end up doing it.
“We were going to bring in some talent from outside, anyway. We think we’re in a position to make the transition from just accumulating young talent to actually competing on the field. This move just underscores that.”
NOTES: The Cubs and Joe Maddon’s agent, Alan Nero, said they haven’t heard anything from MLB on the widely reported intent of the Rays to file tampering charges and insist there’s no merit to such allegations regardless. Nero called the notion “silly.” Maddon, by several accounts, made a contract proposal to the Rays, believed to be worth roughly half what the Cubs paid, that would have kept him in Tampa for the long term. The Rays countered with a lower offer.
◆ Pitching coach Chris Bosio, the front office’s most trusted and prized member of the coaching staff, is said to have been approached by the Twins, who just hired Bosio’s former Brewers teammate Paul Molitoras manager. Bosio is under contract through only 2015.
◆ Theo Epstein, who is under contract for two more years, said there has been no formal discussion about a contract extension for him and his top front-office staff. “Tom [Ricketts] mentioned earlier this year that he definitely would like to extend my contract, and I really appreciate that,” he said. “That’s something I’d like to have happen, too. But we’ve just been too busy. At some point in the future, I’m sure we’ll sit down and try to hammer that out.”
◆ Maddon said he plans to reach out to Rick Renteria, whom the Cubs fired with two years left on his contract to hire Maddon.