Cubs could be in position to exploit active trade market

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Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have strength in numbers with young hitting to use in trades for pitching.

When the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays completed a six-player trade just four days after the World Series ended, it may have signaled more action than usual at this week’s general managers meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.

And that could signal dual tracks of heavier activity for the Cubs’ fifth-year front office this winter – through trade and free agent markets – as it tries to put the team in position to finish what it started with last month’s playoff run.

“As we already saw with the deal between the Mariners and the Rays, I think it could be a fast-moving trade market,” Cubs’ general manager Jed Hoyer said, “and I think there could be, if not action in Boca, definitely action soon after that, just because a lot of ground will be laid for deals.

“There’s probably going to be a little more urgency for teams. Given the fact there’s already been a trade, I think people realize that things could happen quickly. I think people are going to be ready to move quickly.”

How quickly the Cubs are ready to move on any trades might be another matter. Cubs executives have a history of deep thought and deliberate pace when it comes to personnel decisions – particularly trades.

And the team expects to be heavily involved in pursuing free agent options to help fill pitching needs.

But Hoyer’s front office, which was involved in deep talks with several teams near the July trade deadline, already had planned to revisit some of those talks, primarily for starting pitching – such as Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco, Atlanta’s Julio Teheran and San Diego’s Tyson Ross.

And Hoyer in recent days echoed team president Theo Epstein’s comments last month when said the team is willing to deal from its deep reserves of young hitters to fill pitching needs.

He said they’ve already had at least “exploratory” conversations with all the other 29 teams as they head into the four-day set of meetings, starting Monday.

“I expect conversations [at the meetings] to become much more detailed,” Hoyer said.

According to sources at the time, outfielder Jorge Soler and infielders Starlin Castro and Javy Baez were discussed in trade talks with several teams.

Two of those three could be traded this winter if the Cubs can get the pitching help they need or improve the outfield defense enough through that avenue.

“We really like our group,” Hoyer said barely two weeks after Epstein suggested an ideal world in which the Cubs would return all their 2015 hitters. “You can never say never.

“If something makes sense where we would trade out some surplus on the position-playing side for some pitching depth, that’s something we have to explore.”

During a 2014-15 winter remembered more for a free agent haul that included $155 million Jon Lester, the Cubs also made trades for two position players who became critical in their playoff run: leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler and catcher Miguel Montero.

That said, giving up utility man Luis Valbuena (for Fowler) and a pair of low-minors prospects (for Montero) required less deliberation than the idea of trading away 22- and 23-year-old power prospects (Soler, Baez) or a 25-year-old, three-time All-Star who finished a strong as anyone on the team (Castro).

“We loved our roster in September and in the postseason as far as being flexible, versatile and deep,” Hoyer said. “But I do think we’ll be approached on deals like that [for hitters], and if it makes sense we’ll certainly have to consider it.”

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