There they were, the new-look, star-power Cubs, assembled in one room for the first time since Joe Maddon, Jon Lester, Miguel Montero and Jason Hammel (redux) joined the North Side party and Anthony Rizzo started guaranteeing division titles.
Judging by the roar of the packed-house crowd Friday when players took the stage for opening ceremonies of the Cubs Convention, fans shared Rizzo’s vision upon getting their first look at the whole.
But did the group represent team president Theo Epstein’s vision for 2015 after committing more than $250 million to new players this winter?
Probably not. It definitely doesn’t represent the whole that Epstein envisions to start the season.
But how much more the Cubs will add to an already prolific winter of roster upgrades is part of the high-volume buzz filling the Sheraton. Some Cubs insiders believe Epstein has another big move in him before the season starts.
The Cubs have been in contact with the Phillies on available lefty Cole Hamels, but sources say the interest isn’t high enough to meet the Phillies’ steep demands for their ace.
The big fish still on the free-agent market are non-starters.
“I wouldn’t say [we would add] a frontline free agent or anything like that,” Epstein said.
But the Cubs have put together an intriguing-enough roster to suggest Lester, Jake Arrieta and Hammel could lead a rotation at least as good as the Jeff Samardzija-Hammel-Arrieta group from last year. The catching tandem of Montero-David Ross will be a noticeable upgrade, and more depth should be apparent in the bullpen.
Good enough to add the 20 or so victories it would take to make Rizzo right? Probably not.
But Epstein said the front office isn’t done dealing. And he has a gifted, 28-year-old catcher in Welington Castillo to offer in trade. He might look more attractive to other teams after reaching terms on a $2.1 million deal Friday. Along with starting-pitching depth that could mean trading a player such as left-hander Travis Wood, whom the Phillies had some interest in last month.
“We’re comfortable starting spring training with the roster that we have,” Epstein said. “But there are a couple things that we’re working on which might see a tweak. We’re a little deeper in certain areas of the club than others, and if we can redistribute the talent a little bit to provide depth and talent throughout different phases of the club, that’s something we might look to do.”
The payroll budget is about the same as last year, roughly $100 million. And even with the $20 million the front office carried over from last year to add to that pot, the 19 players under contract already total about $111 million for 2015, with perhaps $5 million in anticipated additions for in-house players yet to sign.
But Epstein isn’t ruling out adding something of consequence, maybe even something to help Rizzo’s division quest.
“It involves the shape of the roster as much as anything else,” Epstein said of potential moves he sees now. “But there’s a chance for something significant.”