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Epstein, Cubs in market for upgrades across board

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- In 2006, Jim Hendry finalized a deal with agent Larry O'Brien for free-agent left-handerTed Lilly while Hendry, then the Cubs general manager, was in an Orlando hospital undergoing an EKG.

Since then, Hendry, who needed an angioplasty at that time, was dismissed by the Cubs and is now a special assistant to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. Lilly retired last month after 15 seasons.

What can the Cubs do to top that?

On Sunday, Theo Epstein, president of Cubs operations, and general manager Jed Hoyer were scheduled to arrive for baseball's Winter Meetings, which run Monday through Thursday at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. It was sunny and warm at the site, which will be a welcome relief after the recent cold weather in Chicago.

Epstein and Hoyer probably won't get out of the hotel much. The Cubs are still in rebuilding mode, and have totaled 197 losses the last two seasons. Epstein arrives here in the market for another starting pitcher, some bullpen help, including a closer, and another outfielder.

There were reports Sunday that the Cubs were interested in John Axford, 30, who could compete for the closer job. The right-hander, who led the National League with 46 saves with the Brewers in 2011, was non-tendered by the Cardinals. Other free-agent closers available include Andrew Bailey, Grant Balfour, Ryan Madson and Kevin Gregg, who notched his third 30-save season with the Cubs.

This is their third Winter Meetings as the leaders of the Cubs' front office, but the first for new manager Rick Renteria, who took over as the 53rd manager after six seasons as the Padres' bench coach. He'll meet with the media on Tuesday, and spend most of the week getting to know the rest of the Cubs' baseball operations staff. Renteria has reached out to chat with most of the players.

"I'm excited about the guys we have right now," Renteria said. "I look at the players that are coming and we have some talent in the organization."

That would include Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, C.J. Edwards and Jorge Soler, who other teams should cross off their wish list. That's the Cubs' future.

Jeff Samardzija's name will be talked about in the hotel lobby as teams looking for a young power pitcher try to come up with a package that could pry the right-hander away from the Cubs. However, Epstein says they want to keep Samardzija, 28, and are still hoping to work out a long term deal. The pitcher will be a free agent after the 2015 season.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs