Notes: Staffing OF, rotation; Lester reunion?

December 10th, 2020

CHICAGO -- Take one glance at the Cubs' roster, and it is easy to spot one of the team's most pressing needs this offseason. At the moment, Ian Happ and Jason Heyward are the only two outfielders on the roster.

Two spots were vacated earlier this month, when the Cubs non-tendered Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr. The North Siders also saw Cameron Maybin and Billy Hamilton hit free agency. It goes without saying that president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer is focused on that aspect of the roster.

"We need three?" Hoyer quipped in a Zoom call on Thursday. "Certainly, we're aware of our numbers. I think that's something that we've certainly prioritized."

The decision to cut ties with Schwarber (at least for now) creates a situation in which Happ could be viewed as an option for either center or left field. Last year, Happ claimed the everyday job in center, but Hoyer did not rule out having him move spots if that made the most sense for building the '21 team.

"We're totally comfortable with Ian playing center," Hoyer said. "But obviously, if an acquisition brought us a center fielder -- kind of a pure, natural center fielder -- Ian would be well above-average defensively in left. And we could certainly do that."

Manager David Ross used Nico Hoerner all over the diamond in 2020, and Hoyer said that approach will likely continue in '21. Hoerner might eventually settle into an everyday role at one spot (likely second base), but he can continue to serve as a backup at shortstop and third, or in center field.

That said, although Hoyer does feel Hoerner can help out in center, the Cubs are not looking to make him a part of the primary outfield alignment.

"The predominant focus will be on the infield," Hoyer said. "But the fact that he can and he's willing to go out in center field and feels comfortable, I think, is a huge plus."

Adding starting pitching still on to-do list

One difference in planning for the 2021 campaign will be mapping out more than a traditional five-man rotation. Given the abbreviated nature of the 2020 season, Hoyer said, teams have to account for the potential spike in innings for each individual pitcher.

"We played 60 games last year and guys didn't pitch a full season," he said. "And so, there's an awareness that we're going to have to use a lot of different guys to get through a season from a starting standpoint.

"If healthy, people aren't going to be able to take every fifth turn throughout a season the way we have in the past. And I think the whole industry knows that and is talking about that."

As things currently stand, the Cubs have Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks atop their rotation, with Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay next in line for jobs. That leaves one opening, plus the need for rotation depth behind the main five arms.

Lester reunion not ruled out

There remains mutual interest between the Cubs and veteran lefty Jon Lester in working out a deal for 2021. Earlier this winter, Chicago declined Lester's option and made him a free agent, but the door remains open for a new deal.

"We've been very consistent in our communication with his representatives," Hoyer said. "If things could work out, we'd love to have him back. I think we have to figure some things out first. Obviously, that kind of goes without saying, because otherwise something would be done by now. There's some things we want to work through first.

"What he's done for us is amazing, and certainly we're not ready to close that door."

Worth noting

• Former big leaguer Jim Adduci has joined Ross' staff as the team's new run-production coordinator. Adduci replaces Nate Halm, who was promoted to pro personnel specialist in the baseball operations department.

Adduci spent parts of seven years in the Cubs' farm system and reached the big league club for a handful of games in 2019. In his new role, he will help produce advance scouting reports and game plans for hitters.

"Terrific guy," Hoyer said, "and a guy we thought, even as a player, definitely had a future on this side of the aisle. So I think he'll do a really good job there."

• Hoyer said there is no real update yet in his search for a new general manager -- a process he does not want to rush. Hoyer has maintained that he will provide updates as developments warrant.