By Bruce Levine--
CHICAGO (CBS) -- Before Wednesday's Cubs-Dodgers game, Chicago president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was seen excusing himself from a casual conversation with reporters while taking what appeared to be an important call.
Epstein never returned to the gab session, which in reality doesn't mean much. What it did tell you, the way he moved, was indicative of important conversations having taken place and a fluid scene in the trade market.
The fact that Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer are in hot pursuit of starting pitching is no secret. Epstein alluded to the reality of the situation Monday. The Cubs have been looking at prospective trade partner for a month. Oakland left-handed starter Scott Kazmir has been a prime target for the team. In 14 games, Kazmir is 4-4 with a 2.70 ERA. Lifetime, he has a 95-63 record and a 3.99 ERA. Kazmir had a career-high 15 wins in 2014 for the A's.
The Cubs rotation appears to be the one area where there's general concern by the brass. The consensus is they don't have enough starting pitching quality and depth to make a serious playoff run. The top three starters are solid, with Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel all in a good groove. The next level of pitchers expose a learning curve, with the instability of Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada causing the coaching staff some pause. No great answers appear on the cusp at Triple-A.
Epstein and Hoyer have has pulled off some great deals for pitching in the past three seasons. Those moves helped make his club a respectable contender a year before expected.
"It is a full time job keeping track of what we are doing and what we are working on," Epstein said of the trade rumor mill. "We don't read too much as to what is out there (in the media). Everyone has a perspective, moves that make sense from a talent standpoint and money standpoint. We just have to put it all together and do what is right for team. There might be a move that makes sense on paper but is not right for this team. Our job is to know our group really well and know what is coming and then put it all together."
The front office has fortified the bullpen with solid moves and apparently more help on the way. Reliever Rafael Soriano and rehabbing reliever Neil Ramirez are possible additions in the coming weeks. The question of taking on high-paying long-term contracts, such as that of Cole Hamels, was asked without using the pitcher's name. Hamels has a no-trade clause and close to $85 million left on his deal. The contract runs through 2018, with a $20 million club option for 2019 with a $6 million buyout.
"Every situation is unique," Epstein said of money left on his 2015 budget and beyond. "We have some financial latitude but not unlimited financial latitude."
Other starters in the realm of available possibilities include Kyle Lohse of the Brewers, Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto of the Reds and Jeff Samardzija of the White Sox.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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