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Epstein, Hoyer could be laying groundwork for later Chicago Cubs moves

Two years ago, Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer went to the GM meetings within a few days of winning the World Series.

When they arrived, they no doubt were feeling the high — if not yet the hangover — from the franchise’s first world championship in 108 years.

As Epstein and Hoyer on Monday headed to Carlsbad, California, for this year’s GM meetings, they do so clear of head and with plenty of time to have assessed their team’s needs for 2019.

Not that there’s any rebuilding to be done. The Cubs are coming off a 95-win season and their fourth straight postseason trip, one that ended with them getting bounced out of the wild-card game by the Colorado Rockies.

The GM meetings precede the annual and more glamorous winter meetings by about a month, and general managers deal with a lot of rules, regulations and procedural matters. But there is plenty of time for GMs and team presidents to meet face to face and set the stage for possible trades.

Player agents also roam the hallways to stoke interest in their clients.

This year, it appears the Cubs may be more interested in augmenting their offense and bullpen through the trade market or through more modest free-agent signings.

Big-name free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will carry mega price tags, and with the Cubs pushing toward luxury-tax penalties, landing one of these two players — even if the Cubs have serious interest — would seem a medium- to long-shot.

The Cubs have inventory to deal. Their outfield is a crowded one, with Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Jason Heyward and Ian Happ.

Veteran Ben Zobrist can play both second base and the outfield. He is entering the fourth and final season of his contract, one of the best free-agent deals in team history.

It’s not out of the question that at least one among Schwarber, Almora and Happ will be dealt. Those who remain will get extensive tutelage from new hitting coach Anthony Iapoce. The Cubs’ well-documented offensive woes in the second half of the season cost Chili Davis his job after only one season.

Iapoce’s philosophy is similar to that of John Mallee, who was fired as part of the great coaching staff purge one year ago. In other words, look for Iapoce to stress launch angle after the Cubs got away from that approach under Davis.

In other areas, the Cubs most likely will try to seek at least some insurance in the closer’s role after Brandon Morrow appeared in only 35 games this year and none after July 15, as a right-biceps injury shut him down for the season.

Morrow was 22-for-24 in save opportunities, but can the Cubs count on his health next year? Ace setup man Pedro Strop stepped in with 13 saves but suffered a hamstring injury in mid-September that kept him out of action until the wild-card game.

Coaching staff opening

The Cubs need to make another addition to the coaching staff. Assistant hitting coach Andy Haines left to take the top hitting coach job for Milwaukee. Haines spent one year on the Cubs’ major-league staff after serving two years as the minor-league hitting coordinator.

Charge MLB with error

Leave it to Major League Baseball to fumble the announcement for the Rawlings Gold Gloves.

The Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo shares the Gold Glove at first base with the Braves’ Freddie Freeman. Javier Baez lost out to the Rockies’ DJ LeMahieu at second base, and Jason Heyward fell short in his bid to win a sixth Gold Glove in right field. He lost out to Atlanta’s Nick Markakis.

For some inexplicable reason, MLB and ESPN partnered to telecast the Gold Glove announcement at 8 p.m. Sunday against the marquee NFL matchup between Green Bay and New England.

Both the time and the day were all wrong if MLB wanted maximum exposure for its top defenders. Fall Sundays, especially after the World Series, belong to the NFL. Why could MLB have not waited until, say, 6 p.m. Tuesday?

Baez failed to win a Gold Glove despite being one of the best and most exciting defenders in the game. He played in 104 games at second base (75 starts) and 65 at shortstop (52 starts). LeMahieu, the former Cub and current free agent, played in 128 games at second base (127 starts) and won his third Gold Glove.

Perhaps Cubs manager Joe Maddon is right and that there should be a Gold Glove category for players who excel at more than one position.

Speaking of LeMahieu, he might look good coming back to the Cubs, who traded him in December 2011 in a clunker of a deal that brought third baseman Ian Stewart to Chicago. Stewart played in only 55 games with the Cubs, batting .201 while LeMahieu is a two-time all-star.


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