CHICAGO -- The Cubs have packed their gear and headed home after the 2018 season ended abruptly with a loss in the National League Wild Card Game to the Rockies. Here are some questions heading into the offseason:
Who will be a free agent?
Daniel Murphy, Justin Wilson, Jorge De La Rosa, Jesse Chavez and Bobby Wilson will all be free agents. Cole Hamels has a $20 million option for 2019 (and a $6 million buyout that the Rangers would be obligated to pay). Pedro Strop has a $6.25 million club option ($500,000 buyout). Brandon Kintzler has a $10 million club option or $5 million player option. Jaime Garcia has a $10 million club option ($2 million buyout).
Also worth noting is Jason Heyward may opt out of his contract after this season. He signed an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Cubs in December 2015.
Are any of the potential free agents likely to re-sign?
After the Wild Card Game, both Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and Hamels talked about the left-hander returning in 2019. Epstein also talked about how much Strop has contributed to the team, and the right-hander could be back. Chavez proved to be very valuable, and the Cubs may try to retain him.
What about the 33-year-old Murphy? He contributed not just on the field but behind the scenes, talking hitting with the young Cubs. He made $17.5 million last season.
"I wouldn't rule anything out," Epstein said when asked about Murphy returning. "He did a lot to right our offense right after he got here and contributed while being asked to play a bigger role than we envisioned when we got him because of injuries and because of a lack of performance offensively, and because of the schedule."
Do the Cubs have payroll flexibility?
The Cubs' 2018 payroll was about $182 million, and they have $136 million already committed to '19 salaries, which obviously doesn't include the arbitration-eligible players.
Will the Cubs make any qualifying offers?
The Cubs are not expected to make a qualifying offer to any of their free agents. Only players who spent the entire 2018 season with the same organization are eligible to receive a qualifying offer, which is $17.9 million this year.
When will free agency open?
All eligible players will become free agents the day after the 2018 World Series ends. Players can start signing with other clubs five days after that date.
Who will be arbitration-eligible?
Kristopher Bryant, Kyle Hendricks, Addison Russell, Thomas La Stella, Javier Baez, Mike Montgomery, Kyle Schwarber and C.J. Edwards all are arbitration-eligible. It's the first time for Baez, Montgomery, Schwarber and Edwards.
Are any of these players non-tender candidates?
No. The date to tender 2019 contract offers to unsigned players is Nov. 30.
Who do the Cubs need to protect from the Rule 5 Draft?
Some of the Minor Leaguers eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft include left-handed pitcher Justin Steele, right-hander Trevor Clifton, catcher P.J. Higgins, infielder Jason Vosler, catcher Jhonny Pereda, catcher Ian Rice and right-handed pitcher Erling Moreno. Steele is coming back from Tommy John surgery and pitching in the Arizona Fall League.
All teams must set their 40-man rosters by Nov. 20. Remember, any player selected in the Rule 5 Draft must stay on a big league team's 25-man roster for the entire season.
What's on the wish list?
Once again, it's pitching. The Cubs want to be better prepared, especially after what they dealt with this season after Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow were injured.
"We're set up to have some depth in the starting staff next year," Epstein said. "We're not looking to get rid of starting pitchers. We're looking to have as much depth as possible so we can withstand multiple injuries."