Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein has maintained radio silence for much of the early off-season.
Once again, Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have been overseeing changes to the coaching staff and trying to put together a roster for the 2019 season.
They finalized the coaching staff Thursday by announcing that Tommy Hottovy has been promoted from within to become the team’s pitching coach, replacing Jim Hickey, who resigned for personal reasons.
Hottovy will have his hands full when it comes to the bullpen.
After sitting on the information for a month, Epstein revealed — when questioned Thursday — that closer Brandon Morrow had an arthroscopic surgical procedure last month to clean up debris from his right elbow.
Morrow, who did not pitch after the all-star break because of elbow discomfort, won’t start throwing again until Feb. 6, and he may not be available to start the 2019 season at full strength.
“This is the first time we were asked about him, so I’ll answer it,” Epstein said during an informal news conference at Wrigley Field ahead of next week’s winter meetings in Las Vegas.
“We gave him plenty of time to heal from the bone bruise. He felt a lot better, but his elbow didn’t feel perfect. It wasn’t feeling quite as he was expecting it should feel as the bone bruise was allowed to feel. As a similar case with (starting pitcher Yu) Darvish, we made the decision to go in and do a quick scope of him.
“They did a quick cleanup of some cartilage in there, a quick debridement arthroscopically. He’s feeling really good one month post-op. Based on the rehab schedule, it could potentially affect his availability in April. That probably doesn’t give him enough time to be fully 100 percent ready Opening Day, but we think shortly thereafter.”
Epstein answered questions on an array of subjects, including the St. Louis Cardinals acquiring star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in a trade Wednesday from the Arizona Diamondbacks. That trade should strengthen the Cubs’ National League Central rivals.
“It was a great division before that trade and even better now,” Epstein said. “To be expected. The Cardinals do a great job producing young talent and have a lot of depth of young players.
“It just reinforces that the NL Central is to be earned. We have our work cut out for us, and that’s how it should be.”
The Cubs are expected to be active at the winter meetings, probably more so in trade talks than in pursuit of big-ticket free agents. Although most Cubs fans would love to see the Cubs make a big run at free-agent right fielder Bryce Harper, Epstein sounded a sobering note.
“It’s really a similar dynamic in a lot of ways that it is every year,” he said. “We get a budget. We always operate within a budget. There aren’t sort of artificial constraints. We’re not overly guided by the CBA (collective-bargaining agreement) although you take it into account for strategic purposes, especially over the long haul. But like any good business, we have a budget, and you adhere to it.
“The headline with the budget is that we’re extraordinarily lucky to have the financial support that we do from ownership. It’s a top-six payroll, at least, every year, more than enough to win. We’ve won more games than any other club the last four years.
“That proves it’s more than enough to win. We’ll have probably a higher payroll this coming year than we’ve had in any year in the past.
“If there are limitations or there is a need to get creative, it just underscores the fact that we have to do a better job and we have to find value and efficiency on the roster.”
With the coaching staff, the Cubs promoted Hottovy from coordinator of advance scouting. He has been a fixture in the clubhouse the last several years, going over video with pitchers and helping to prepare game plans with catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello, who was promoted to associate pitching coach.
Lester Strode remains bullpen coach as he enters his 31st season in the Cubs organization.
“Tommy’s been a really valued member of the staff for four years now,” Epstein said. “In a lot of ways, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode have been a significant part of our successful pitching structure. We wanted to maintain that continuity the best we could.
“Tommy was somebody was actually asked about by another club as pitching coach. I think we would have lost him but for this move. But that’s not why we made it. We felt like he was the best person.”
The Cubs also named Terrmel Sledge assistant hitting coach and Chris Denorfia quality assurance coach. Denorfia played for the Cubs in 2015.