Cubs leave virtual winter meetings with more work to do

The Cubs selected right-hander Gray Fenter in the major-league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. Fenter was 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 17 starts in 2019.

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President Jed Hoyer and the Cubs were quiet during the winter meetings.

President Jed Hoyer and the Cubs were quiet during the winter meetings.

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No blockbuster Kris Bryant deal. No Javy Baez extension. Not even a minor-league free-agent signing. For the Cubs, and the rest of MLB, the virtual winter meetings were just another week and with only three trades and a handful of players signing major league deals, this won’t be one to remember.

The Cubs still have a long to-do list before getting to spring training in two months. That list includes the future of their core, acquiring starting pitching depth, putting an outfield together and ultimately finding a new general manager.

But while the winter meetings weren’t the must-see event that usually encapsulates the second week of December, they could very well have been the foundation for what the Cubs hope to do over the next four to six weeks. It’s clear the trade market is where teams look to improve until free agency begins to move and with an open mind about the future, it puts the Cubs in a beneficial position.

“I feel like there was definitely a lot of activity as far as teams calling around. The buzz has certainly picked up,” president Jed Hoyer said. “I think that’s more because of the calendar. You know, we sort of have two full weeks before Christmas, in some ways, I think that’s really the reason things picked up.

“It doesn’t feel that much different. I think that the volume of phone calls and the volume of activity is about the same. I just think that it’s been a little slower. I think that the tender deadline was much more focused on than normal. That was a day when the economy is better and when things are a little bit different, I feel like there’s not as much anticipation of that day. Whereas I think this year, everyone from the teams to the media was very focused on the tender deadline, so that might change things a bit.”

The one significant move the Cubs made was acquiring right-handed pitcher Gray Fenter in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday. Fenter, 24, pitched in the Baltimore Orioles’ system after being drafted in the seventh round of the 2015 Draft. 

The right-hander has pitched well throughout his four minor league seasons and has flashed plenty of potential as both a starter and reliever. Fenter was 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 22 games (17 starts) and struck out 123 batters with 43 walks over just 94 1/3 innings pitched. 

“We liked him a lot in 2019. He pitched in Low-A, but we really liked the stuff. We’ve kind of had consistently good reports on him throughout his early career,” Hoyer said. “We like the fact that he’s got an explosive fastball and has the ability to throw different breaking balls with a slider and a curveball. 

“All the makeup stuff we got on him was really positive. It was probably five or six guys that were really focused on over the last two or three days and Gray rose to the top of that list, and we’re glad we were able to select him.”

The Cubs will have to get things moving soon as they look to improve both short- and long-term, but until things begin to fall into place around baseball with different rules changes and decisions, it will continue to slow an offseason already moving at a glacial pace. 

“I don’t think there’s one trigger,” Hoyer said. “I do think that ... and I don’t think it’s entirely related to the Cubs, I think teams are waiting on clarity in certain areas. And I think that’s slowed things up, and kind of rightfully so. So I don’t think it’s one thing that’s going to trigger everything, and open it up. 

“But, I do think as we get clarity on a bunch of these issues: the rules, COVID, vaccines, all those different things ... I think those things will start to open things up.”

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