Epstein stresses creativity to fill Cubs' needs

Epstein stresses creativity to fill Cubs' needs

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Theo Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations, spent the first day of the General Managers Meetings going over the team's list of arbitration-eligible players and how those potential salaries will affect the budget. Those money matters mean that the fans' dream of the team signing every top-tier free-agent pitcher available is unreasonable.

The Cubs have been linked to free-agent pitchers David Price and Zack Greinke, both of whom may command salaries that don't fit Chicago's 2016 budget.

"I think if we want to [sign two players to lucrative deals], we have to get pretty creative," Epstein said on Monday. "Even if we want to do one really big thing, I think we have to get creative."

The Cubs' list of arbitration-eligible players includes Jake Arrieta ($3.63 million in 2015), Travis Wood ($5.685 million in 2015), Pedro Strop ($2.525 million in 2015), Chris Coghlan ($2.5 million in 2015), Hector Rondon ($544,000 in 2015) and Justin Grimm ($531,500 in 2015). The team's budget got a boost because of the playoff run, and the Cubs anticipate more financial freedom once the new television deal is in place in 2019.

"We have the ability to add a little bit from where we are right now, but arbitration raises cut into things quite a bit," Epstein said. "I don't think we have room to do everything that's been speculated in some areas. We can be creative."

Adding pitching is the top priority following the Cubs' 97-win season and first trip to the postseason since 2008. Last year they were able to land the majority of players they targeted.

"[The offseason prior to 2015] was a nice, orderly winter where you're able to check off an item in each area we were trying to address," Epstein said. "Sometimes you have to follow a more creative path. We'll see how this one goes."

Dexter Fowler was one of those players added last year. The Cubs did make a $15.8 million, one-year qualifying offer to the center fielder, who is coming off a season in which he set career highs in games played, home runs, runs scored and walks. If Fowler does not return, the Cubs may look to trade for a center fielder rather than dip into the free-agent market.

Maybe the Cubs and White Sox could swing a deal. The White Sox are looking for a shortstop after not picking up Alexei Ramirez's option, and the Cubs do have a surplus of middle infielders. Epstein isn't closing the door to any team.

"If [a trade] helps both teams on the surface, why not?" he said. "There's only 29 teams you can do deals with. You start crossing teams off the list, it limits your ability to get things done."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.