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Cubs have questions to answer in offseason

October 31, 2017

CHICAGO -- The Cubs were the first defending World Series champs to both win their division the next season and reach 90 wins since the 2009 Phillies. They were also the first defending champs to make the postseason since the '12 Cardinals. But the Cubs weren't able to repeat --

CHICAGO -- The Cubs were the first defending World Series champs to both win their division the next season and reach 90 wins since the 2009 Phillies. They were also the first defending champs to make the postseason since the '12 Cardinals. But the Cubs weren't able to repeat -- something that hasn't been done since the Yankees did from 1998-2000.
What's next for the Cubs? There already have been changes in manager Joe Maddon's coaching staff. Here are three questions to ponder now that the Dodgers and Astros are done battling in this year's World Series:
Free agents: RHP Jacob Arrieta, RHP Wade Davis, RHP John Lackey, LHP Brian Duensing, OF Jonathan Jay, C Alex Avila, C Rene Rivera, RHP Koji Uehara.
Arbitration-eligible players: Righties Hector Rondon, Justin Grimm, and Kyle Hendricks; third baseman Kristopher Bryant; shortstop Addison Russell; infielder Thomas La Stella.

What do the changes in the coaching staff mean?
During the National League Championship Series, Maddon said he wanted all of his coaches back, but that changed once the Cubs' season ended and some coaches became available. Chili Davis and Jim Hickey are the new hitting and pitching coaches, respectively, and Dave Martinez, who had been at Maddon's side since 2008 as his bench coach, was named manager of the Nationals. Andy Haines, who was the roving Minor League hitting coach, was also promoted to assistant hitting coach.
Davis, 57, inherits some young talent and will be asked to improve their situational hitting. Maddon has known Davis since he played for the Angels. Hickey, 56, has the tough assignment of getting the pitchers -- especially the relievers -- to cut down on their walks. Martinez, 53, was the liaison between Maddon and the players, and the manager's confidant. Who fills that role? It will be interesting to watch the dynamics.

Who's going to start?
Jonathan Lester, Hendricks and Jose Quintana are back, but the Cubs can't go with a three-man rotation. This is the first time Arrieta will be a free agent, and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein expected the right-hander to take advantage of it. Mike Montgomery will start in Spring Training, but he's headed for the bullpen once the season starts. The Minor League system doesn't have a starter ready to fill the Nos. 4 and 5 spots, which leaves Epstein looking at free agents or a possible trade. And who is he willing to deal? Could the Cubs part with Javier Baez or Russell?

Who leads off?
The Cubs used 11 different leadoff men -- including Anthony Rizzo -- and although Epstein said finding one was more a luxury than a necessity, it was obvious that the offense wasn't as effective without William Fowler at the top of the batting order. The Cubs' No. 1 batters combined to post a .246/.324/.422 slash line in 2017.
If Benjamin Zobrist had not been bothered by injuries, he might have filled that spot. The Cubs know Kyle Schwarber isn't the answer. Maddon needs to find someone and revive his "You go, we go" message. The answer could be in-house with either Ian Happ or Albert Almora Jr. stepping into the No. 1 slot.

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.