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Cubs weigh short-term winning vs. long-term success

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Even as they insist on staying focused on the long-term interests of the organization, Cubs baseball executives left the general managers meetings Thursday still working through the internal dilemma brought on by their sudden success of 2015.

Fresh off the Cubs’ unexpected 97-victory season and run to the National League Championship Series, their work toward a ‘‘foundation for sustained success’’ has created what looks like a short-term opportunity — specifically, a two-year window — of exceptional World Series potential.

‘‘It’s hard to argue [against the idea] that the next two years represent a great chance to sort of amass maybe the most talent on a single roster that we can,’’ president Theo Epstein said, ‘‘because the young guys haven’t started to make a lot of money yet, [Jake] Arrieta’s locked in and [Jon] Lester’s pitching at the top of his game.’’

Arrieta, a finalist for the National League Cy Young Award, is under club control through arbitration the next two seasons and is anything but certain to agree to a team-tolerable extension beyond that. Lester reaches the back side of his six-year, $155 million deal — and his age-34 season — after 2017. And 2015 rookies Addison Russell and Kris Bryant, who is expected to be named NL Rookie of the Year on Monday, will hit arbitration after two more seasons.

That kind of short-term opportunity, especially during a winter with a free-agent market deep in the Cubs’ specific pitching needs, has kept the internal dialogue strong in the three weeks since the season ended.

‘‘Are we interested in optimizing the talent that we have in the short window, as well as the medium- and the long-term windows? Absolutely,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘I think we’re right at that point in the win curve where every win we can tack on to this roster on paper is potentially really, really meaningful. And I don’t take that for granted at all.

‘‘We’re not going to look past the chance to add a two-win player or a one-win player or a half-win depth player if we can because those wins can be really important. . . . We’re right at a point in time that every added win is

really meaningful.’’

The other short-term reality is that the Cubs have worked out about $30 million in payroll flexibility to work with, pending final arbitration numbers and the reserve they keep for in-season moves.

Do they go all in with a $30 million-a-year David Price or Zack Greinke? Do they sign a pair of $10 million-to-$15 million-a-year free agents? Do they max out all the resources to seize that two-year window?

‘‘No,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘It’s a balancing act between preserving a long window of competitiveness at the highest level with sort of maximizing [short-term

opportunity].’’

That’s part of why he talked about being ‘‘creative’’ through such things as trading salary to add a big salary this winter. It’s why the Cubs are spending as much time looking at the trade market as the free-agent market despite the abundance of ideal-looking fits among

free agents.

‘‘If you just get to the point of being competitive and then rely on the free-agent market for everything, I think there’s a danger in that,’’ GM Jed Hoyer said.

Epstein said the Cubs had face-to-face talks this week with six agents of players they’re looking at. Some of those agents represent multiple players of interest.

That group is known to include the agents for pitchers Jordan Zimmermann, Price and Greinke, although the Cubs might look more in the direction of less costly pitchers and hitters and try to add those on-paper victories through greater volume and depth.

‘‘I do think we’ve been walking a tightrope with our lack of starting-pitching depth,’’ said Epstein, who nonetheless vowed to make long-term interests the top priority, no matter how

tantalizing the next two seasons look.

‘‘I’m just saying you can’t count on building a super-team that will translate to winning a World Series. The best way to do it is to have really good teams year after

year, get in [the playoffs] year after year, and eventually you’ll win it.’’

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Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com