Baseball’s winter meetings happen later than usual this year, meaning they’ll run deeper into the Christmas buying season.
Maybe there are some last-minute stocking stuffers awaiting the Cubs, who did their part to jump-start a slow-developing off-season with Thursday’s signing of free-agent pitcher Tyler Chatwood. On Friday, Japanese pitcher-hitter Shohei Ohtani announced he would sign with the Los Angeles Angels. And early Saturday, the New York Yankees acquired slugger Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins in a deal that reports say will become official pending physical exams.
Perhaps the dam has broken.
“I don’t know,” said Cubs president Theo Epstein, who will head the organization’s delegation in Orlando for the winter meetings, which officially open Monday. “Things will happen. The winter meetings are a little bit later this year. I think that’s why the wait seems like it’s longer this year than most.”
Chatwood is only the beginning for the Cubs, who need another starting pitcher as well as additions to their bullpen. Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer will meet with representatives for free agents as well as most other team executives to talk possible trades.
“We’ve got plenty more work to do,” Epstein said. “We’re certainly not done. Obviously, the focus of the winter has been pitching. We need to continue to add to the rotation and retool the bullpen to a certain extent.
“[The Chatwood signing] is one thing we were able to accomplish before the winter. That’ll just help us focus on our remaining needs.”
Over the years, Epstein and Hoyer have liked getting ahead of the market as much as possible, and signing Chatwood was an example of that.
“There are times to strike quickly, and there are times to wait back and get value,” Epstein said. “Starting pitching is an area where I felt like there was more demand than supply. In certain areas of the relief market, there’s a lot of supply. We felt like if we could get the right starter on a reasonable deal before the winter meetings, that was something we’d like to do. It wasn’t something we felt we had to do, but Tyler’s somebody we’ve had a lot of interest in for a long time.”
Chief among the Cubs’ bullpen needs is a closer. Epstein said he is interested in re-signing free agent Wade Davis, who was outstanding in his one year here last season. Ditto for starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, although re-signing either pitcher will take some doing.
The winter meetings have become more of a symbolic benchmark in recent years because teams now can make trades or sign players at any time.
But that symbolism remains strong, and there’s always a chance something gets done when people meet face to face. Momentum for the Cubs to sign ace pitcher Jon Lester picked up steam at the winter meetings three years ago.
The key is for teams not to get caught up in the hype and make a deal just to make a deal.
“It’s just a frenzied environment at the winter meetings, even within your own suite,” Epstein said. “We’re used to operating with six to eight people within the decision-making circle. All of a sudden at the winter meeting, you have 30 people in there. It’s important to remind yourself of that and then step back and not get caught up in any sort of deal momentum, and try to recreate your normal decision-making processes.”