Have Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer seen enough out of their club in the second half so far to further pursue trades before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline?
You better believe it. The Cubs are 6-1 since the break -- all wins coming on the road -- and they're back in Chicago (with short road trips to the South Side and to Milwaukee) for 2½ weeks, before they have to board a plane again. They've cut into the Brewers' National League Central lead, and they look like a team ready for the pennant race.
"We're playing well, right in the thick of it right now," Hoyer said Wednesday. "We have to look out for a bunch of different things."
The Cubs already have reeled in a big fish in the form of lefty starter Jose Quintana -- and they'll never stop looking for starting pitching -- but now the immediate needs of this season can be addressed without worry it will be a waste of time or assets.
At least it feels that way, because after the deadline, making a move is nearly impossible.
"Past Aug. 1, [if you have] injuries, you have to handle internally," Hoyer said. "Focusing on depth, focusing on making sure we have enough pieces as you cross that threshold."
Where are the Cubs short on depth in case there's an injury? There is little doubt they could use a backup veteran catcher, no matter how much they like rookie Victor Caratini. It's not about replacing him -- though a veteran immediately would -- it's about being ready in case of injury. You can bank on the Cubs adding someone behind the plate, and Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila is still a solid choice. Hoyer mentioned the idea of fortifying the position before the deadline several times.
Same goes for the bullpen. The Cubs have the second-best relief staff in the league, according to ERA (3.30), behind the Los Angeles Dodgers (2.90). But if you want to look hard, with Friday's meltdown against the Cardinals serving as a prime example, you could make a case that they need another arm. Closer Wade Davis is 18-for-18 in save opportunities but has walked a tightrope lately. Carl Edwards Jr. is nearly unhittable but gives up inopportune walks from time to time. Koji Uehara is 42 years old.
The readdition of Mike Montgomery to the bullpen strengthens it further, but another lockdown lefty wouldn't hurt. Even a good righty could find a role.
Baltimore Orioles lefty Zach Britton was mentioned in a report earlier in the week, and he makes a lot of sense if the Cubs are looking for one of the best on the market. Names not as often discussed from the right side that would fit the Cubs' pen include Brad Brach of the Orioles, David Hernandez of the Los Angeles Angels and former Cub Joe Smith, who has 47 strikeouts in 31⅔ innings pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays. Still, Cubs manager Joe Maddon isn't wrong in backing his own guys. They've been good.
"The job of the GM at this time of the year is to improve your team, no question," Maddon said. "Our guys are very good at that. I would not be surprised by anything, although, honestly, I think we have what we need right here, right now."
He might be right, but it's about planning in case Maddon doesn't have those same pieces beyond July 31. Plus, things are still a little shaky during the middle innings, at times, so another arm makes sense for several reasons.
So far, the Cubs' hot start to the second half has given their front office every reason to add again.
"As we get closer to the deadline, we'll look at all those options," Hoyer said.