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Epstein: Free agents believe in Cubs' direction

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 10:13 a.m. CST

(MCT) — NASHVILLE — Despite 101 losses in 2012, Cubs president Theo Epstein said there is no shortage of free agents who want to be part of the organization.

Epstein said free agents “believe in the positive direction that we’re going,” and heard about the clubhouse atmosphere under manager Dale Sveum.

“When we express interest, we’ve been hearing back to us, ‘That’s a place we’ve had our eye on and we’d really like to consider playing there,’ which you don’t often hearing coming off a 101-loss season,” he said.

The Cubs still have interest in third baseman Ian Stewart, who was non-tendered on Friday. But Epstein said the Cubs could have to “get creative” at third, meaning “rely on players who haven’t necessarily held down that position for 150 games in the big leagues, or rely on a platoon, or rely on someone who is more of a middle of the field player who can provide plus defense at third, or more of a bat that you’re really hoping can catch the ball.”

Luis Valbuena can be a platoon player at third, along with a right-handed hitting option. Epstein said they could look to the recent non-tender list for some of their needs. The Orioles non-tendered Mark Reynolds, a power hitter with a high strikeout ratio, while Washington non-tendered left-hander John Lannan.

“We have our eye on at least one (lefty),” Epstein said. “I like the timing- non-tenders coming right before the Winter Meetings. It’s the right thing to do for the players and the clubs, to move the (non-tender date) up a little bit and give the players a real market opportunity.”

Epstein said the Cubs will continue to look at starting pitching, but don’t have to be “desperate” after signing Scott Baker and Scott Feldman.  As for the bullpen, Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa is expected to come to Chicago for a physical this week, and figures to be officially signed by Wednesday or Thursday.

They’re likely to make a selection with their No. 2 pick in the Rule 5 draft, even if just to deal him for prospects. Teams can not trade spots in the draft order.

While the Cubs will look at some big names on the market, Epstein pointed out that “typically with the premier free agents, the most aggressive team- the team that’s willing to tack on an extra year or two, willing to blow past their initial (average annual salary) value point is the team that lands that player.  When that happens, it’s not always a contract that makes sense with a team with a little longer timetable (to win). But it can happen with one phone call.”

The Cubs aren’t likely to make that phone call.

Epstein will listen to offers on Alfonso Soriano, though he lauded Soriano on Monday.

“Sometimes it makes sense to listen,” he said, adding that Soriano has no-trade rights and can turn down a trade. He told the Cubs last year he didn’t want to go to San Francisco, which wound up winning a World Series without him.

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