The Rundown: Winter Meetings Begin Today, Cubs Close to Signing Jason Hammel, Castro Not Being Traded

This MLB offseason has featured an almost overwhelming amount of rumors. But we can expect them to ramp up even more now as the Winter Meetings begin today in San Diego.

Part of the reason I think it has felt so pressing is because the Cubs are in the middle of the Jon Lester sweepstakes. I am so ready for that to be resolved.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark says an executive from a team pursuing the left-handed starter expects the Lester talks to have more clarity by the end of the day today.

It would be nice if it were to be wrapped up today, but I’m not holding my breath. Lester was supposed to make his decision before the Winter Meetings, but then the Dodgers had to enter the picture and ruin everything.

Another executive (not in on Lester) told Ken Rosenthal we can “book it” that Lester gets a seven-year contract.

Tom talked about this a week ago. I still say I’d do it if I’m the Cubs.

Patrick Mooney wonders if the Cubs’ lack of a big TV deal will prevent them from being able to seal the deal.

If the Cubs do in fact get Lester, it could change their offseason plans, Theo Epstein told Jess Rogers in a pre-Winter Meeting presser. “If you get a player that makes a significant difference for you in the standings then you prioritize creating a winning roster immediately around that player, whereas if the offseason goes in a slightly different direction you just continue to build more organically and continue to think more longer-term,” Epstein said.

Makes you wonder what other moves the Cubs would make if they sign Lester (or another “significant difference”), compared to if they miss out.

Other things to look forward to during the Winter Meetings this week: Joe Maddon will meet the media on Tuesday, according to Carrie Muskat, so expect some good quotes to come out of that. Also, the Rule 5 Draft will take place on Thursday.

And then, of course, there will lots and lots of rumors.  We can definitely look forward to that.

Jason Hammel reportedly returning to Chicago

Late last night, Jon Heyman reported that the Cubs and pitcher Jason Hammel were close to a deal. Cool.

Hammel was really good for the Cubs last season before being included in the trade with Jeff Samardzija that brought shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney in return from the A’s.

He struggled somewhat in Oakland, but I like this signing. If the Cubs can add Jon Lester and another starter such as maybe Justin Masterson, I’m feeling pretty good about the rotation.

Castro is not being shopped, in case you were wondering

The Cubs have told the Mets and other teams that Starlin Castro won’t be traded this offseason, writes Jon Heyman. While not very surprising news, it’s good to hear. I just don’t see the benefit of getting rid of an established MLB shortstop, especially one who’s only 24.

In other Castro news, a report from the Dominican Republic said Castro had been “invited” to answer questions related to a shooting that occurred after a concert, but Gordon Wittenmyer says that Castro is denying any involvement.

Castro’s agent Paul Kinzer said Castro and his family heard the shots but took cover behind a car. Castro also released a statement via Instagram on the situation.

Other notes

* John Sickels has published his list of the top 20 Cubs prospects, and it truly serves as yet another reminder of why we can be so excited for this team’s future. Heading the list are Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler, whom Sickels all rates as “Grade A” prospects (good chance of becoming a star or at least MLB regular, assuming health). He notes the Cubs have three of the top 10 prospects in baseball. That’s so awesome to think about.

* Kyle Schwarber also was rated as an “A-“. C.J. Edwards was the top-rated pitcher (fifth overall). 18-year-old outfielder Eloy Jimenez, No. 14 on the list, is highlighted as a “high-ceiling alert” player. Overall, Sickels says he believes the Cubs have the top (or if not top, definitely second best) farm system in baseball. That sits well with me.

* The Nationals are attempting to sign pitcher Jordan Zimmermann long-term, according to Ken Rosenthal. If a deal can’t be made, it’s likely Zimmermann would be traded. Earlier in the offseason, the Cubs were briefly linked to the pitcher, so there is probably interest on both sides. Whether the Cubs would be willing to part with a top prospect or two for one year of Zimmermann is another story. (I think probably not.)

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