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Rotation depth an offseason focus for Cubs

@MLBastian
October 5, 2020

CHICAGO -- As the Cubs navigate the offseason months, much of the focus will understandably be on the offense. The hitting group fell short this year -- both in the regular season and in October -- making change in that area seem inevitable. For a team still aiming to contend

CHICAGO -- As the Cubs navigate the offseason months, much of the focus will understandably be on the offense. The hitting group fell short this year -- both in the regular season and in October -- making change in that area seem inevitable.

For a team still aiming to contend in 2021, that makes the state of the top of the rotation all the more important. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Monday that having Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks under contract creates a solid foundation for the club.

Winds of change blowing for Cubs, Epstein

"We have two of the best starting pitchers in the game on good contracts," Epstein said.

What about the rotation behind Darvish and Hendricks?

"We certainly have to seek some starting pitching," Epstein said, "and some starting-pitching depth from outside of the organization, too."

José Quintana and Tyler Chatwood are bound for free agency, and Jon Lester would join them if the Cubs decline his $25 million option, as expected. Chicago would still have to pay Lester a $10 million buyout, and the possibility of bringing the veteran lefty back on a team-friendly deal does exist.

"We're going to talk over the next couple days," Epstein said of Lester. "It remains to be seen whether Jon has pitched his last game as a Cub or not. There's certainly the possibility that he continues to call Wrigley Field home."

Epstein later praised the work of right-hander Alec Mills, calling the starter a "dependable" and "adaptable" piece for the Cubs. Epstein also raved about the late-season development and MLB showing of righty Adbert Alzolay.

"Going into the year," Epstein said, "we were hoping that Adbert could develop into a Major League starter, and now we see one. And he's somebody that I think is primed to slide into the rotation."

Worth noting

• Epstein praised the work of manager David Ross and his entire coaching staff, but noted that the exit interview process would be delayed by about a week. The Cubs encouraged the coaches to return home to their families and to "digest the season" before the reconnecting with the team for virtual exit conversations.

"In a lot of areas," Epstein said, "our coaching staff buoyed our players, supported our players and put them in a position to succeed. It didn't happen offensively. It was not from lack of effort. It was not from lack of attempted adjustments or lack of creativity. So we'll go through a normal process."

• While the Cubs' offense issues felt similar on the surface this season, Epstein noted one major difference: "We were getting beat in the strike zone by fastballs. And that's not something that really happened in the past."

Per Statcast, the Cubs hit .255 (26th in MLB) with a .440 slugging percentage (28th) against four-seamers in the strike zone in 2020. In their two playoff games, the Cubs hit .138 (4-for-29) with a .241 SLG on four-seamers in the zone. Last season, Chicago hit .301 with a .580 SLG in the same area.

• Epstein said a big change this offseason will be communicating with players, agents and front-office leaders from other teams virtually. Epstein: "We're going to have to hold ourselves accountable to do a lot of outreach and spend a lot more time engaging on the phone even more than normal, more regularly, more systematically."

• Epstein said there were currently no medical procedures scheduled for any players. He did note that righty Rowan Wick (left oblique injury) will continue a rehab program with the goal of throwing again in mid-November to gauge his progress.

Quotable

"A status quo that is mindful of the importance of transition planning, and mindful of some of the unique circumstances that we have. We're clearly entering an offseason that will require some critical decisions that have long-term impacts for the organization on the field, and some off the field as well." --Epstein, on what a “status quo” in leadership structure means for the Cubs in 2021

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.