CHICAGO -- The Cubs captured a division title last season and reached the postseason for the fifth time in six years. The goal Chicago did not achieve was putting another World Series trophy next to the 2016 hardware.
The disappointing early departure from the National League Wild Card Series set the stage for what will be a critical offseason. The Cubs still believe they have the pieces to contend in 2021, but the franchise has to explore change and plan for the future, given the offensive shortcomings and October exits in recent years.
"We have a great team. We have a team that won the division last year," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. "Obviously, the playoffs have not gone as we hoped in two of the last three years. But ultimately, the goal every year is to give ourselves a chance, and that's not going to change.
"I think in this job, you always have one eye on the present and one eye on the future. I think the truth is that, given [the current situation], that eye might be a little bit more focused towards the future than usual. But that doesn't take away from the goal. And like I said, the goal is always to make the playoffs and give this organization a chance to go deep in October."
Three of the Cubs' starting pitchers from last season -- Tyler Chatwood, Jon Lester and José Quintana -- hit the open market this offseason. Yu Darvish has been traded to the Padres, who sent Zach Davies to Chicago to replace some MLB innings as part of the seven-player swap. That leaves Kyle Hendricks as the rotation's lead arm, followed by plenty of questions. Alec Mills and Davies are next in the pecking order with Adbert Alzolay a leading candidate for one of the vacancies. More depth is needed after a shortened 2020 campaign. One solution arrived in the form of righty Trevor Williams (signed to a one-year deal).
This was going to be a tricky need to solve, given the makeup of the Cubs' roster and the unknowns surrounding the team's payroll situation when the offseason began. After multiple seasons of disappointing team-wide offense, the Cubs were searching for a way to alter the lineup's look. The offseason has yet to bring any sweeping change in that regard, but the Cubs did cut ties with Kyle Schwarber and replaced his bat in the lineup with Joc Pederson.
The Cubs have earned a solid reputation for finding impact relievers in cost-effective ways -- whether it's via trade or through reclamation free-agent projects. Last year, Jeremy Jeffress signed a one-year deal and turned into a stabilizing force for the relief corps. Jeffress is now a free agent, though. There are openings in the bullpen and, while the Cubs do have internal options, expect the team to keep searching for cost-effective ways to impact the group.
Addressing the bench -- both for infield and outfield options -- will be important, especially if any core pieces do wind up on the move this offseason. Depending on how things shake out, there will probably be needs for complementary players to address platoon advantages (outfield corners and second base) and late-inning defense (center field).
The Cubs sent Darvish's personal catcher, Victor Caratini, to the Padres as part of a blockbuster swap, creating a hole behind All-Star catcher Willson Contreras, who is also a trade candidate this offseason. The Cubs do have catching prospect Miguel Amaya knocking on the big league's door, but some veteran depth is also likely on the team's wishlist. The Cubs met this need by signing veteran Austin Romine to a one-year contract.
Feb. 12: Cubs extend 25 non-roster invites
Chicago invited the following non-roster players to MLB camp for Spring Training: Right-handers Joe Biagini, James Bourque, Juan Gámez, Jake Jewell, Trevor Megill, Shelby Miller, Tommy Nance and Michael Rucker; lefties Rex Brothers, Brendon Little, Adam Morgan, D.J. Snelten and Jerry Vasto; infielders Abiatal Avelino, Matt Duffy, Trent Giambrone, Alfonso Rivas and Patrick Wisdom; outfielders Michael Hermosillo, Nick Martini, Ian Miller and Rafael Ortega; and catchers Taylor Gushue, P.J. Higgins and Jose Lobaton.
Feb. 5: Pederson, Williams and Chafin signed
The Cubs announced three free-agent signings, including Joc Pederson (one-year, plus a mutual option for 2022), right-hander Trevor Williams (one-year deal) and lefty Andrew Chafin (one-year, plus a mutual option for 2022). Pederson fills the hole that was created when the Cubs parted ways with Kyle Schwarber, adding a powerful lefty bat to the middle of the lineup. Williams offers the Cubs a comeback candidate with plenty of MLB experience to help fill out the rotation. Chafin, who was initially acquired by the Cubs via trade last season, stays in the fold as a veteran option to help neutralize left-handed batters.
In order to add all three players to the 40-man roster, the Cubs designated infielder Max Schrock for assignment.
Jan. 28: Stewart signed to one-year deal
The Cubs inked a one-year pact with right-hander Kohl Stewart, who comes with five years of club control. The deal (valued at $700,000, per a source) comes after Stewart opted out of the 2020 season due to being high risk (Type 1 diabetes). Stewart, 26, is viewed as a long-relief option for the Cubs, but can also compete for starter innings in '21. He has a 4.79 ERA in 17 career games (six starts) in the Majors with the Twins ('18-19).
Jan. 23: Romine signed to one-year deal
The Cubs addressed their need for a backup catcher by signing veteran Austin Romine to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. The 32-year-old catcher hit .238/.259/.323 in 37 games in 2020, but his season line was hurt by a rough September (.362 OPS in 15 games) that included a right knee issue. In parts of nine years with the Yankees and Tigers, Romine has hit .239 with a .639 OPS. He had a .281/.310/.439 slash line with New York in 2019.
Jan. 15: Cubs avoid arbitration with four
Chicago avoided arbitration via one-year contracts with third baseman Kris Bryant ($19.5 million), shortstop Javier Báez ($11.65 million), catcher Willson Contreras ($6.65 million) and starter Zach Davies ($8.63 million). Outfielder Ian Happ exchanged proposed salary figures with the Cubs, seeking $4.1 million compared to a $3.25 million offer from the team. The sides are heading to a hearing. All salary figures are unconfirmed by the club and are via sources.
Dec. 29: Darvish, Caratini traded to Padres for Davies, four prospects
Hoyer's first blockbuster trade was a stunning swap that sent Yu Darvish -- the NL Cy Young Award runner-up in 2020 -- and Victor Caratini to San Diego (along with $3 million) in exchange for right-hander Zach Davies, infield prospects Reginald Preciado (No. 11 on MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Padres prospects list) and Yeison Santana (No. 16), and outfield prospects Owen Caissie (No. 13) and Ismael Mena (No. 15). Davies had a 2.73 ERA in 69 1/3 innings for San Diego in '20 and will slide into the Cubs' rotation. The prospects range from 17-20 years old, meaning they will need years of development before potentially impacting Chicago's big league team.
Dec. 22: Ervin claimed off waivers
The Cubs claimed the versatile Phillip Ervin off waivers from Seattle, adding depth to the outfield. Ervin is coming off a rough 2020 (.149 average in 37 games) with the Reds and Mariners, but he hit .271 (.797 OPS) in '19 with a .349/.411/.628 slash line in 95 plate appearances against left-handers. Ervin has played all three outfield spots, with the bulk of his experience in the corners.
Dec. 17: Holder signed to one-year deal
Right-hander Jonathan Holder signed a one-year non-guaranteed contract ($750,000) and will compete for a spot in the bullpen. Over parts of five seasons with the Yankees, Holder turned in a 4.38 ERA with 165 strikeouts against 53 walks in 176 2/3 innings. He had a 4.98 ERA in 18 games in '20 but was non-tendered by New York on Dec. 2.
Dec. 10: Fenter picked in Rule 5 Draft
The Cubs snagged righty Gray Fenter from the Orioles in the MLB phase of the Rule 5 Draft. In 2019, Fenter posted a 1.81 ERA with 123 strikeouts and 43 walks in 94 1/3 innings for Class A Delmarva in Baltimore's system. Fenter did not pitch in any games in 2020.
Dec. 2: Schwarber, Almora among non-tenders
The Cubs opted against tendering 2021 contracts to outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr., along with utility man José Martínez and reliever Ryan Tepera. Schwarber and Almora were drafted and developed by Chicago and played roles in the 2016 World Series triumph. All four players became free agents.
Dec. 2: Bryant, four others tendered contracts
Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Victor Caratini, Willson Contreras and Ian Happ were each tendered a 2021 contract. That initiates the arbitration process for all five players, who can reach a deal with the team at any point leading up to their scheduled arbitration hearings. Caratini and Happ are eligible for the first time, while Báez and Bryant are in their final year of eligibility. Contreras is under club control through 2022.
Dec. 2: Rea, Ryan, Winkler avoid arbitration
The Cubs signed right-handers Colin Rea ($702,500) and Dan Winkler ($900,000), as well as lefty Kyle Ryan (split contract worth $800,000 in Majors and $250,000 in Minors), to one-year contracts to avoid arbitration.
Dec. 2: Stock claimed from Red Sox
The Cubs claimed righty Robert Stock off waivers from Boston, adding him to Chicago's bullpen picture. The 31-year-old reliever had a 4.73 ERA in 10 games in 2020, while averaging 96.8 mph on his fastball, per Statcast. Stock has a 4.24 ERA in 52 games across the '18-20 seasons with the Padres and Red Sox.
Nov. 20: Added three to 40-man roster
Right-hander Cory Abbott (No. 12 on MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Cubs prospects list), infielder Christopher Morel (No. 11) and righty Keegan Thompson (No. 26) had their contracts selected, protecting the prospects from the Rule 5 Draft pool.
Oct. 31: Picked up 1B Anthony Rizzo's option
The Cubs exercised the $16.5 million option to keep one of their core leaders and producers for '21.
Oct. 31: Declined INF Daniel Descalso's $3.5 million option
After two seasons of subpar production and injury woes, Descalso received a $1 million buyout.
Oct. 30: Declined LHP Jon Lester's $25 million option
The veteran pitcher received a $10 million buyout, but mutual interest exists for a possible return.
Oct. 30: Claimed INF Max Schrock off waivers
The Cubs grabbed the 26-year-old second and third baseman from the Cardinals, adding infield depth.
Oct. 30: Outrighted LHP Rex Brothers
An on-and-off member of the Cubs' 2020 bullpen, Brothers elected free agency rather than accept the Triple-A assignment.
Oct. 28: Eight become free agents
Andrew Chafin, Tyler Chatwood, Billy Hamilton, Jeremy Jeffress, Jason Kipnis, Cameron Maybin, Josh Phegley and José Quintana became free agents.