12/1 Epstein on Winter Meetings, Z, Marshall & more

Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, touched base on a variety of topics prior to the Winter Meetings, which begin next week in Dallas.

* As far as the new rules stated in the collective bargaining agreement regarding the Draft, Epstein said the Cubs will simply have to make sure they get the evaluations right as far as scouting players. “You have to answer the ultimate question: which player is going to have the best career?” he said.

He said the adjustments — and potential limits on what teams can spend without incurring a penalty — will not affect how they spend money on free agents. The goal is to still develop the team through scouting and player development. He said, “We just have to be better” in terms of scouting.

* What about rumors the Cubs are reportedly pursuing free agents Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder?

“I don’t think we pay too much attention to rumors,” Epstein said.

The priorities haven’t changed. Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer want to build the Cubs the right way for the long haul, mainly through scouting and player development and with the acquisition of young players. The second aspect is taking advantage of every opportunity they can.

“We’re not going to do anything to serve the second priority that disrupts the first,” he said. “If there’s a move that makes us much better in the short term but it’s at the expense of doing things the right way and building it for the long haul through a core of young players, we’re not going to make that move.”

So, keep that in mind when you hear the next rumor regarding the Cubs.

* Top priority heading into the Meetings? It’s starting pitching.

“We need starting pitching,” Epstein said. “You can’t take your chances very seriously as a club if you go into a season with not just five guys you can point to but six, seven, eight guys. You better know who your ninth starter is going to be because you’re going to need him. The numbers show you’re going to need your ninth starter through the course of the year.”

* Epstein said he enjoyed meeting the Cubs staff in the Dominican during a recent scouting trip. He would not comment on the players he saw, which included Cuban outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler.

* With the addition of David DeJesus, where does that leave Brett Jackson? Epstein said he hadn’t talked to the young outfielder yet but did say Jackson is “the type of guy we want here and he’s got a bright future here.” Jackson will have to show he’s ready for the big leagues. Epstein said there has been a trend to promote players quickly from Double-A. He says Triple-A is a finishing school, and some players need to take the time there.

* Carlos Zambrano is healing after taking a line drive off his face during a start in Venezuela. There is no timetable for Zambrano’s return to pitch there, but he is expected to make another start for Caribes. Big Z needed 16 stitches to repair a cut after he was hit.

* Where does Epstein see Jeff Samardzija and Andrew Cashner – in the rotation or the bullpen? Right now, Epstein said they’ve had discussions on the two right-handers.

“I do see both guys being really valuable pieces to the picture,” said Epstein, encouraged by Cashner’s performance in the Arizona Fall League. He also noted Samardzija looked much better in the second half of the season, and added “next year is a big year to build on that.”

Don’t expect Sean Marshall to be in the rotation mix.

“If you have the best left-handed reliever in baseball, it’s hard to think about taking him out of that role,” Epstein said.

* New manager Dale Sveum’s coaching staff could be announced next week.

* Don’t expect to see Epstein in the lobby of the Hilton Anatole during the Winter Meetings.

“It’s one of the few times that all 30 clubs are actively engaged in talking trade, which is nice,” Epstein said. “There’s a perception out there that the job of a GM or club president is always on the phone with the 29 other clubs talking about trades and it really doesn’t happen that often. You have to seize those opportunities at the GM meetings, at the Winter Meetings.”

So, he can pick up the phone and walk down the hall to talk to another team.

“I’ll be honest, you’re not going to see me down there [in the lobby] much,” he said. “I tend to stay in the room. I don’t like that scene in the lobby. We’ll try to get in the same room with our scouts and management team and gauge agents and scouts.”

– Carrie Muskat

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