Rumors king in Queens as Cubs weigh future vs. now in trade deadline strategy

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How Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer navigate the next month of trade talks could be huge for where the Cubs go next.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer was finishing up an interview with a few Chicago reporters last month before a game against the New York Mets, when a writer snuck in a final question about the apparent abundance of trade opportunities between the pitching-flush Mets and hitting-rich young Cubs.

“We haven’t made a deal yet, but there’s been matches that made sense, and I’m sure we’ll talk to them in the future,” Hoyer said.

“It’ll happen at some point.”

What? Nearby New York writers perked up suddenly as Hoyer headed off to other business.

“Did your GM just say he’s making a trade with the Mets?!”

Uh, not really. But sort of. Maybe.

Crank up the rumor mill again as the Cubs head to Queens for a three-gamer against the Mets with exactly a month to go before the trade deadline.

Whether either considers itself a bona fide contender – enough to dive into the deep end of the July trading pool – probably depends on what happens in the next two weeks. This week’s series alone could have a big influence on the direction of the fifth- and sixth-positioned teams in the National League if one sweeps.

Meanwhile, a Cubs team that rarely sends its president or GM on the road with the club is expected to have Hoyer traveling on this trip.

Not that it necessarily signals an impending move between the teams, but the teams have had discussions on possible trades for well over a month as the Mets shopped since-demoted Dillon Gee and Tuesday’s starter Jonathan Niese. The Cubs seek higher quality – an arm they can envision as at least No. 3-caliber playoff starter — and were willing to consider including slugging prospect Javy Baez in a deal until Baez broke his finger earlier this month.

Both teams are looking for club control over the talent it acquires, especially in any deal between two clubs with some of the highest volume of young pitchers and hitters, respectively, in the game.

The Cubs in particular have so few well regarded pitching prospects that one evaluator familiar with the system said he didn’t need all the fingers on one hand to count the number of legitimate major-league starting prospects in the system.

And the best one of those, high-A right-hander Duane Underwood Jr., went on the Myrtle Beach disabled list over the weekend with an undisclosed arm injury. Team officials said he was undergoing medical tests Monday to determine the severity.

No wonder the Cubs committed $155 million for six years to get the starter they wanted last winter, and why they talk internally about long-term free agent offers for the likes of Jordan Zimmermann or David Price next winter – assuming new club revenues are shared with the baseball department.

But what about now? What about the chance to make a playoff push at least a year ahead of schedule? Were those back-to-back wins against Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke that pushed the Cubs nine games over .500 the indicators of what this team is this year? Or were the five consecutive losses against the Dodgers and Cardinals that followed?

“It’s the same balancing act we always go through – try and balance the future vs. the present,” Hoyer said. “Obviously, this is a very important season. Every season that you’re in the race you have to take seriously because you can’t always count on tomorrow.

“As much as we’re building for the future, you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. You know what’s going [on] now. You don’t want to do anything that you’re going to look back on and say ‘that was hasty.’ But you never want to look only toward the future and ignore the fact that this has been a really fun season with a lot of big positives, and ‘can we improve some of the weaknesses we have and keep that going?’ “

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