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Starting pitching on Cubs to-do list at Meetings

Chicago has trade pieces to add rotation pieces, acquire closer
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Finding pitching has been the Cubs' No. 1 priority this offseason, and it's still tops on their list heading into the Winter Meetings next week. They got a head start on Thursday by signing free agent Tyler Chatwood.

The Cubs can cross Japanese two-way player Shohei Ohtani off their wish list. Ohtani, 23, announced through his agent he had picked the Angels from the seven finalists, which included the Cubs.

CHICAGO -- Finding pitching has been the Cubs' No. 1 priority this offseason, and it's still tops on their list heading into the Winter Meetings next week. They got a head start on Thursday by signing free agent Tyler Chatwood.

The Cubs can cross Japanese two-way player Shohei Ohtani off their wish list. Ohtani, 23, announced through his agent he had picked the Angels from the seven finalists, which included the Cubs.

• Agent: Ohtani chooses Angels as destination

"We have plenty more work to do," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Thursday after introducing Chatwood at Wrigley Field. "We're certainly not done. Obviously, the focus of the winter has been pitching and we need to continue to add to the rotation and retool the bullpen. [Signing Chatwood] is one thing we were able to accomplish before the [Meetings] and that will help us focus on our remaining needs even more."

• Cubs add right-hander Chatwood to rotation mix

What else is on the Cubs' agenda for the Winter Meetings? Here's a preview:

Club needs
Starting pitching

With Jake Arrieta and John Lackey gone via free agency, the Cubs' rotation has some holes. They hope to have filled one of those with Chatwood, who signed a three-year, $38 million deal on Thursday. The Cubs do have in-house options, including Eddie Butler (2.36 ERA in eight starts at Triple-A Iowa in 2017) and Alec Mills, who missed time last season because of an ankle injury. The Cubs may be looking at making a trade to get a quality arm. Whoever does join Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana will have a new pitching coach in Jim Hickey, who will be reunited with manager Joe Maddon. They were together in Tampa Bay.

Hot Stove Tracker

Video: Castrovince on trade market for starting pitchers

Closer
Wade Davis also departed via free agency, and the Cubs decided to non-tender Hector Rondon, who was the closer in 2014-16 until they acquired Aroldis Chapman. Maddon has talked about how Carl Edwards Jr. has the potential to be a closer, but the Cubs most likely will look at free agents to fill this spot. They've already started reworking the bullpen mix with the additions of Dario Alvarez and Randy Rosario.

Video: WSH@CHC Gm3: Edwards Jr. fans one in scoreless 8th

Bench
Late last season, some players compared what Jon Jay did for the team to what David Ross provided -- veteran leadership as well as contributing on the field. However, Jay, 32, is a free agent, and not expected to return. With the Cubs' roster made up of so many young players, who will provide that spark?

Who they can trade if necessary
OF Kyle Schwarber

An American League team most likely would be interested in Schwarber as a possible designated hitter. In 14 games in his career as a DH, Schwarber hit .304 -- and that doesn't include his performances in the 2016 World Series. However, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has emphasized that Schwarber possesses the intangibles he wants -- good leader, quality character, fearless -- and will be hard-pressed to part with him.

Video: CHC@TB: Statcast™ measures Schwarber's 114.3-mph homer

SS Addison Russell/IF Javier Baez/IF/OF Ian Happ
When Russell was injured, Baez smoothly shifted to shortstop. That kind of depth is a luxury not many teams have. Happ surprised the Cubs with his power, hitting 24 homers in 115 games in his rookie season. He also shifted from the infield to the outfield -- a super utility player in training. As much as the Cubs want to keep all three, either Russell, Baez or Happ may be dealt to acquire some pitching.

OF Jason Heyward
A five-time Gold Glove Award-winning outfielder, Heyward simply hasn't provided the offense the Cubs expected when they signed him to an eight-year deal. Maddon says it's reassuring to have Heyward in right field because of his defensive skills. He's also an important presence in the clubhouse. No one on the Cubs will forget his rain delay speech in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. But could another team take a chance on the 28-year-old outfielder, thinking they'll get 20-plus homers? Maybe. Heyward does have full no-trade protection so he'd have to approve a deal.

Video: Must C Catch: Heyward takes homer away from Braun

Top prospects
Per MLBPipeline.com, the Cubs' top 10 prospects are right-handed pitchers Oscar De La Cruz, Jose Albertos, Adbert Alzolay, and Alex Lange, lefty Brendon Little, catcher Victor Caratini, right-hander Thomas Hatch, outfielder Mark Zagunis, right-hander Trevor Clifton and left-hander Justin Steele.

Of that group, Caratini, 24, could be the Cubs' backup catcher in 2018. Caratini impressed Maddon with his defensive skills during the 31 games he appeared in last season. In addition, Caratini batted .342 with 27 doubles, three triples and 10 homers in 83 games at Iowa. Epstein is very high on Alzolay, who went 7-1 with a 2.98 ERA in 15 starts at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, made seven starts at Double-A Tennessee and played in the Arizona Fall League. But if he is promoted, it won't be until later in the 2018 season.

Video: CHC@MIL: Caratini hits his first Major League homer

Rule 5 Draft
The Cubs' 40-man roster is at 35, freeing them up to make a Rule 5 Draft pick if desired. Last year, they made a deal with the Brewers before the Draft and acquired left-handed pitcher Caleb Smith, who was in the Yankees' organization, for cash considerations. The seventh player taken overall in the Draft, Smith was returned to the Yankees on March 28, and he did get to the big leagues in July, appearing in nine games.

Big contracts they might unload
Heyward is owed $134 million over the next six years of his contract, which would be a lot for another team to handle. If the Cubs were to move the outfielder, they most likely would have to pay a portion of that.

Payroll summary
The Cubs have about $94 million committed to six players in 2018, but they will have to deal with pay raises for six arbitration-eligible players, including Kris Bryant, Hendricks, Addison Russell, Justin Wilson, Justin Grimm and Tommy La Stella. The Cubs' 2017 payroll was estimated at $172,199,881.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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