Posted on July 6, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
There’s no denying that the Chicago Cubs have been one of the more disappointing teams in baseball this year. Coming off last year’s World Series title, most expected the Cubs to be one of the game’s dominant teams. But things haven’t exactly panned out that way. Nevertheless, the Cubs remain very much in contention for a playoff spot and should be viewed as a threat. However, while most contenders spend July looking for outside help, that may not be the case with the Cubs.
Cubs president Theo Epstein, the man who put together last year’s title-winning team, isn’t convinced the trade market is the way to improve his club this year. Chicago has already been linked with potential trade targets. But the Cubs may not end up being all that active at the trade deadline.
“Our biggest fixes are inside the clubhouse,” Epstein said Thursday. “This is largely the same club that won 200 games, averaged 100 wins over the last two years. There’s not a player that we can realistically bring in from the outside that can spur us to play at that level. We’re going to get to that point of playing to that level because of the guys that are here.”
Epstein is right in his assessment. Most of Chicago’s roster remains in tact from last season. But few players are performing at the same level. Most notably, members of the starting rotation have seen a significant drop-off in their effectiveness. That has led many to speculate that the Cubs will be looking for a starting pitcher on the trade market. Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who may be traded this summer, has been linked with the Cubs. But Epstein isn’t exactly buying the rumors.
“You can’t put too much stock in rumors,” Epstein said. “Every player out there on a team that isn’t in first place will come up in rumors. Sometimes there is something to it, sometimes there’s not.”
Of course, Epstein, like every GM in baseball, is not closing the door completely on making trades before the deadline. With pitchers like John Lackey and Jake Arrieta about to hit free agency, the Cubs may be looking for starting pitchers who can help them both this year and next year. In fact, that’s part of the reason why Verlander has been linked to the Cubs. But it doesn’t mean that a trade is realistic.
“Some years it’s relatively easy to make small upgrades or big upgrades and some years it’s virtually impossible,” Epstein explains. “You can get in trouble when you tell yourself you have to force something. You can’t force anything.”
The bottom line is that Epstein isn’t counting on making any big additions that can help the Cubs defend their World Series title. Last July, the Cubs acquired both Aroldis Chapman and Mike Montgomery, two pitchers who contributed to the club’s championship. But Epstein isn’t convinced similar trades can be made this year. He’s still waiting for the current group of Cubs to start playing up to their potential.
“The talent rests inside our clubhouse, inside players who are wearing Cubs uniforms right now,” says Epstein. “We’ll do what we can to look to augment that, but there’s not going to be a fundamental shift in the player personnel that we have. We like our club. We don’t like how we’ve played to date.”
After Thursday’s loss to the Brewers, the Cubs are back under .500 and 4.5 games behind Milwaukee atop the division. On paper, Chicago has more than enough talent to overcome that deficit in the standings. But Epstein could be taking a risk by making the current team sort things out on their own. The Cubs may need a little nudge in the form of a trade to get moving in the right direction.