CHICAGO — As the Chicago Cubs await a decision from lefty ace Jon Lester, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein made a few things clear.
The team is active this offseason. But it is not handing out blank checks.
"I think we've done a nice job rebuilding up the organization to a really healthy place where we can be aggressive," Epstein said. "We'll continue to be aggressive. But we're not going to go into any one negotiation as if it's do or die. The Cubs are in a really nice spot compared to where we were a few years ago. I think we're going to continue to get healthier and healthier as an organization. If we're successful in one or two of the things that we're trying to do this winter, we're going to be very competitive very soon."
Epstein spoke Friday in advance of next week's winter meetings in San Diego.
Landing Lester, a three-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion, would be a huge boost for the Cubs.
They're loaded with prospects and have one of the game's top managers after hiring Joe Maddon. Throw in the fact that Wrigley Field is getting its long-awaited makeover and there's a sense that big things are happening on Chicago's North Side, that the top-to-bottom overhaul of the organization is starting to pay dividends and that a string of five straight losing seasons could be ending soon.
Lester, traded from Boston to Oakland in July, would give the Cubs' rotation an ace. He's also familiar with the front office from their time together with the Red Sox. And former pitcher Ryan Dempster thinks he would be a perfect fit with the Cubs.
"Jon and I have talked about how great it is to play here," he said. "You know what? He knows that. He's got an extremely tough decision ahead. But whatever the decision is going to be, hopefully, it's here with the Chicago Cubs because he won't be disappointed."
Dempster, who retired as a player with the Cubs and joined their front office on Friday, teamed with him in Boston in 2013. He called Lester "an incredible leader" and praised his work ethic.
"All the younger guys can sit and watch and learn from him because he's just a tremendous pitcher, a tremendous human being and would be a great addition to any team," Dempster said.
Epstein spoke only in general terms and not any specific players. But he did discuss the balancing act in going after high-priced players.
"If you go into free agency thinking you're one player away and you need any one player at all costs, you're probably going to end up getting burned," Epstein said.
He envisions a time when the Cubs are the "feared team" in free agency.
"We're not the Dodgers, and we're not the Yankees," he said. "But there are still plenty of things we can do. We have a lot of resources at our disposal. We're not going to complain about it. We're a team with a healthy enough financial situation and a lot of young players who give us flexibility to be very impactful in the marketplace."