Dexter Fowler? The Cubs don’t expect the center fielder back but would welcome another late-winter shocker.
A trade with the White Sox for pitching? That ship has Saled.
The day after the Cubs addressed their center field issue by signing free agent Jon Jay, general manager Jed Hoyer acknowledged – vaguely – a report this week that the Sox won’t do business with the Cubs despite obvious personnel fits.
“I think they’d always listen to the merits of a deal. They’re in the business of getting better and in the business of doing the best deal,” Hoyer said during a media conference call Wednesday. “But I don’t think anything that’s been written is the least bit surprising. I don’t expect a lot of deals done between the White Sox and the Cubs. I don’t think I’m saying anything surprising when I say that.”
After Hoyer’s comments were published Wednesday, Sox GM Rick Hahn issued a statement that read, in part:
“To clarify any confusion regarding our stance on possible trading partners, we want to once again make it clear that our primary goal is to make our club better. We will consider any trade, with any team, that improves the Chicago White Sox.”
With the annual winter meetings looming next week, the White Sox are at the epicenter of potential activity as the seller with the most to offer in game-changing talent, from starting pitchers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana to hitters Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton.
“As I have said many times over the years, we are always open to discussing trades with all 29 other clubs,” Hahn continued in the statement. “We even have completed trades within our division, despite facing these teams 19 times a year, and while trades between the Cubs and White Sox will always draw heightened scrutiny and attention, it makes no sense for us to ever eliminate any potential trading partners.”
The Cubs have an “imbalance” of position players over pitching in their farm system.
But the Cubs figure to focus their efforts on strengthening their pitching depth, both in the rotation and bullpen, outside the city limits.
“I don’t think it’s either one side’s stance or the other,” Hoyer said. “I just don’t think you’re ever going to see a lot of deals done between the two sides.”
Signing Jay to the one-year, $8 million deal might have cleared the decks for the Cubs to focus solely on pitching the rest of the winter.
The deal for the left-handed hitting Jay gives the Cubs a strong defensive center fielder who can help right-handed hitting Albert Almora transition into the everyday starting role as the Cubs look to repeat in 2017.
Hoyer suggested Almora could see the bulk of the playing time, depending on performance.
“He’s a guy that we see as our center fielder of the future,” Hoyer said. “And it’s important for him to develop in the big leagues and get a chance to face all kinds of pitchers. But ultimately the game does come down to performance, and we’ve given [manager] Joe [Maddon] two really good options in center field.”
The implication, of course, is that the Cubs view the already unlikely possibility of Fowler returning as an all but foregone conclusion. Fowler is expected to take advantage of an otherwise weak free agent market.
“We would never close the door on a reunion with Dexter,” Hoyer said of the leadoff man who eschewed a three-year offer from Baltimore last February to return to the Cubs on a one-year deal. “He’s always welcome here. He’s a guy that’s going to live in Cubs lore for a long time.
“We would love to have him back, but we know how the business works, and that’s not something we’d necessarily count on.”