Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 12/2/11

In what historically is a fun event for fans of trades and free agent signings, the Winter Meetings are taking place next week in Dallas, Texas, and GM’s of various teams are already starting to talk to the media. Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ new President of Baseball Operations, took some time to talk to ESPN.com’s Bruce Levine on Thursday, and he had some interesting comments for the noted baseball scribe.

Perhaps the most telling of those comments was Theo’s insistence that the Cubs’ top priority this off-season will be to improve their starting pitching. He said that Matt Garza “(is) exactly the type of guy that we would like to build around”, and also said that Jeff Samardzija and Andrew Cashner could definitely be candidates for the rotation. He did dismiss speculation of moving Sean Marshall into the rotation, calling him “the best left-handed reliever in baseball.”

Dissecting those comments is a pretty simple task. There has been speculation that Garza is a guy that the Cubs could look to trade in order to get some young talent on the roster, but there is no way that they’ll be giving up on him after only one year, especially considering the price tag that he commanded when the Cubs acquired him from the Rays last off-season. He is going to be a mainstay in the rotation as guys like Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano move toward that day when they will no longer be with the club, and it was smart of Theo to advocate his faith in him.

Samardzija and Cashner both have realistic shots at making the rotation coming out of spring training next year, but Theo’s comment about Marshall seems absurd at first blush. The guy isn’t exactly a household name, but he did have a very good season last season in the bullpen. Following up on a strong 2010 campaign, Marshall had a 2.26 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP, and only allowed one homer in 75 and 2/3rds innings. He is a great eighth inning guy behind Carlos Marmol, and if Marmol struggles with wildness next year, undoubtedly Marshall would get first crack at the closer spot.

Some other nuggets from the interview include Epstein’s comments on the Cubs’ training academy in the Dominican Republic, and also his comments on the Cubs’ signing of David DeJesus on Wednesday. DeJesus will likely be the team’s lead-off hitter on Opening Day and starting in right field, and Epstein had some praise for him while addressing other needs of the club.

“We’ll look for a well-rounded position player to contribute and maybe run the bases….David is a good example of that,” Epstein said.  DeJesus’ contract is also reasonable, especially considering the large amount of salary room that the Cubs have cleared by shedding contracts like Kosuke Fukudome’s and Aramis Ramirez’s throughout the year. If they decide that Zambrano has to go at some point, that would likely mean even more savings, albeit with the team eating some of the remaining money on the contract.

Speaking of Big Z, Epstein also said that he is recovering nicely after being hit in the face by a line drive down in the Venezuelan Winter League, and said that there is a reasonable chance that he will be able to pitch again very soon. Epstein and Jed Hoyer are likely doing their due diligence before deciding on the big right-hander’s fate. It seemed all but certain that the team would finally part company with him after yet another blow up this season, but the front office seems content to give him a shot to make the team, and it will be interesting to see whether or not he can hold himself together from now on.

One thing Epstein did not do was tip writers off on his plans for free agency, which he played coy about in the piece. One thing for sure is that he seems to be adamant about signing younger players, which would essentially write off either Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. The market isn’t exactly loaded outside of those guys and shortstop Jose Reyes, so the Cubs’ main signings are likely to be off the radar guys with good intangibles.

 

 

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