Does Cubs’ front office have enough support from ownership to add big arm

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The Cubs’ front office apparently doesn’t have the resources to call all its rival teams in a given month.

So it might not be a good time to count on the team’s ability to take on a big salary in a trade this summer.

“We’re on a limited phone plan, so we have to spread it out,” team president Theo Epstein joked Monday.

But he wasn’t laughing a few hours later.

In fact, it wouldn’t have been surprising if his minions were scrambling to find him a new calling plan about the time Monday night’s starter Tsuyoshi Wada was being examined after leaving in the third inning because of shoulder cramping.

Wada, a Tommy John surgery “graduate” who opened this season on the disabled list with a groin injury, essentially amounted to the Cubs’ starting pitching depth when he replaced struggling Travis Wood in the rotation May 20.

If his seven scoreless innings against Cleveland in his previous start gave the Cubs reason to believe they had time to wait and work the trade market over the next few weeks, his departure Monday – regardless of the prognosis – was a reminder of how fragile pitching depth is for any team trying to compete.

And for a team that entered the week in wild-card playoff position?

“We’re not hiding the ball,” Epstein said. “That’s the one area right now where we kind of have a short stack, and if there are ways to address it before it becomes a real problem we’d like to do that.”

Time’s up.

If Wada is forced to the DL, Wood is the obvious choice to return to the rotation, especially after stretching to 54 pitches in 3 1/3 scoreless innings in emergency relief Monday.

Either way, the Cubs will need to step up efforts that already have been aggressive on the starting pitching front.

One major league source said a few days ago the Cubs have talked to “literally every team” that is a potential match and a possible deadline seller, including the Mets and Angels.

The Cubs aren’t willing to part with their highest-regarded prospects such as Kyle Schwarber or Addison Russell, but Javy Baez’s broken finger two weeks ago scuttled at least one possible trade, sources said.

The Cubs’ ideal acquisition, said the first source, would be a young established starter with at least two or three years of club control left.

Whether the Cubs would be willing to revisit the Phillies and veteran ace Cole Hamels – who’s under contract for another guaranteed three years after this one, at $23.5 million each – could depend more on financial resources than desire or willingness to trade prospects.

Epstein was vague when asked about his flexibility for taking on salary.

“Every situation’s unique,” he said. “I think like most teams we have some financial flexibility and not unlimited financial flexibility.”

He did say what ownership already had suggested before the season began regarding new stadium-related revenues and more than $150 million raised through recent minority-ownership investments:

“I don’t think that’s related. I think that went to the [stadium] project,” Epstein said. “There’s a budget at the start of the year, anticipating some of the new revenue streams, new revenues and expenses as well. So it would only things that weren’t forecast in the budget that would be either new liabilities or new windfalls.”

Neither of which appears to exist at this point. If anything, anticipated revenues took a hit with construction delays that pushed the opening of the left- and center-field bleachers to May 11 and the right-field bleachers to June 11.

Team sources said before the season began that this year’s payroll budget remained essentially flat from 2014 to 2015 (roughly $100 million), with the extra needed for the front end of Jon Lester’s big free agent contract created by savings from last year’s budget.

Epstein sounds willing to think outside the box – even within the National League Central. Division rivals Cincinnati and Milwaukee both have starting pitching that could be available in trades, however uncommon such deals are between teams in the same division.

“We’re always open to it,” he said. “We traded Sean Marshall in the division [to Cincinnati for Wood]. It wouldn’t stop us. And there’s some GM’s with big sets in the division, so I don’t think it would stop them, either.”

Bottom line: Epstein is going to need all the minutes he can get on that calling plan.

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