Cubs casting wide net with eyes on pitching upgrades

A controllable starter like Chris Archer could be a fit for the Cubs, but would the champs be willing to give up one of their talented young hitters to land him? Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO -- Let's work backward.

By the end of the month -- or perhaps by the end of next week's winter meetings -- the Chicago Cubs will have fortified their bullpen in some capacity. This is as much as we can know about anything as the hot stove season heats up. Their search for a young, controllable starter may go on for months, but one way or another the world champions will add to their relief staff as they attempt to repeat.

The major question is if a big addition will come via free agency or trade. The Cubs seemingly have answered that several times and did again earlier this week.

"We kind of felt like we did two offseasons' worth of shopping in one offseason last year," general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday on a conference call. "With that in mind, I don't expect nearly the activity we did a year ago."

So does that rule out re-signing closer Aroldis Chapman, or adding Mark Melancon or Kenley Jansen? Probably, though industry sources say the Cubs are kicking the tires on all types of relievers, from free agents to potential trade targets. They've asked about Jansen, but it's unknown if the price tag will be too high. There's a good chance it will be, so names such as Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Alex Colome and A.J. Ramos are being explored.

There are many others as the Cubs cast a wide net for relievers and starters.

"That's been a significant bulk of our efforts, trying to identify those starting pitchers, those kind of relief pitchers and how to match up with them [other teams]," Hoyer said. "It's definitely not going to be a lack of trying on our part to make that type of deal. We do have an imbalance in our organization hitting versus pitching."

The Cubs are hopeful they added a promising young starter in Mike Montgomery when they acquired him during the summer, but right now he's just replacing Jason Hammel in the rotation. They need more -- preferably guys with minor league options, according to Hoyer. But the pressing concern has to be in the bullpen. The Cubs mostly escaped injury but lost Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon late in the season while several relievers -- including those two -- took turns struggling. Rondon could very well return to form, but the Cubs simply want more back there and need to find another lefty or two in case Travis Wood doesn't return.

"We can play from an offensive standpoint and feel good about our group," Hoyer said while implying they need more pitching. "I don't think you can always count on that kind of health every single year ... Building up a reservoir of depth [is needed]."

That brings us to the notion of a trade. In signing Jon Jay earlier this week, the Cubs never mentioned the idea of Jason Heyward playing center field, so if he's playing right field and Kyle Schwarber is in left, it leaves Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez at second base. There's absolutely nothing wrong with having them all on the roster and letting manager Joe Maddon figure out the playing time, but if the right deal comes along that kind of depth will come in handy.

Would the Cubs pull the trigger on a deal involving Baez? A good, young starter like Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays is going to cost at least that much. So again, if the right deal is there to be made, it might be hard to pass up. But the Cubs don't need to go out on a limb to make a trade. They're still dealing from a position of strength, but one way or another -- big or small -- they should have a few new arms by the new year. Just don't expect the spending spree they went on last winter.

"The bulk of our heavy lifting is done," Hoyer said. "It will be a quieter winter than last offseason. Shouldn't expect a flurry of things."