"Overall, for the organization, I think 2015 will be a little bit different than the previous three seasons in that we now think we have the talent to compete," president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday afternoon. "And anytime you have enough talent to compete you want to set your sights high.
"We proved we can be very competitive within this division and when you have a chance to compete you should set your sights high and that means our goal is the NL Central title next year."
Epstein spoke in the Cubs' offices across the street from Wrigley Field, where the 100-year-old ballpark is undergoing a face-lift. A fully renovated facility will bring in more revenue and lead to a higher payroll, but that's still several years away from being a reality. And so is the prime of the Cubs' young core of players, many of which made their debuts this past season.
Next year they should take steps forward after the team finished in last place with a 73-89 record.
"We're going to be competing while we develop young talent," Epstein said. "It isn't easy but it's exciting, very exciting."
That's a different tune than the one the Cubs were singing in years past. No longer are they ridding themselves of hefty contracts and restocking the farm system. Now they're actually seeing the fruits of their labor at the major league level.
But they'll need some veteran help, especially on the mound.
"We're in a position, perhaps as soon as this offseason, and certainly over the next 15 months, we're going to be adding some talent from outside the organization that will further round out our club," Epstein said.
The Cubs will look for starting pitching this offseason as top names likeJon Lester, James Shields and Max Scherzer should be available. But overall the market is better next winter whenJordan Zimmermann, Jeff Samardzija, David Price and several others will be available.
Again, the Cubs won't go all-in just yet, but they should be in a position to add at least one arm. They previously stated that money not spent last winter would carry over to this one.
"We're going to be very involved," Epstein said. "We will add talent from outside the organization. I hope we add impact talent, but it has to make sense. We can't completely sell out for 2015. It's starting to be the right time to add impact talent.
"We try to look at these things in stages. Between this offseason, next year's trade deadline and next offseason, we will add impact talent from outside the organization."
But will it be enough to be playing next October? Epstein admitted they've come up short on offense in terms of making contact and getting on base. The Cubs were first in strikeouts in the National League and last in on-base percentage, highlighting the fact a huge turnaround in 2015 is needed in some areas.
That will partly be on the coaching staff.
"Their job will be to continue to develop young players but also put the team in a position to win on a nightly basis," Epstein said.
The good news for the Cubs is they were above .500 for most of the second half of 2014, going 31-28 since July 28. And that's when they were fielding the youngest team in the league. It gives the organization hope moving forward.
"The 2015 Cubs are in a much better position to compete and to win, certainly than the 2012 Cubs," Epstein said. "We acknowledge it's a process. I do think we have so much going for us."
Epstein Eyeing Postseason In '15
Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo discusses team president Theo Epstein's goal: to win the division next season.