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Bullpen depth a priority for Cubs in offseason

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

The Cubs head into the 2019 season well stocked with starting pitchers, and general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday that adding bullpen depth is a priority this offseason.

The Cubs did give the rotation a boost when they picked up Cole Hamels' $20 million option. The lefty, who took to Twitter on Tuesday to voice his excitement for 2019, was impressive in his 12 starts with the Cubs, posting a 2.26 ERA. He'll join starters Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Tyler Chatwood and possibly Mike Montgomery.

The Cubs head into the 2019 season well stocked with starting pitchers, and general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday that adding bullpen depth is a priority this offseason.

The Cubs did give the rotation a boost when they picked up Cole Hamels' $20 million option. The lefty, who took to Twitter on Tuesday to voice his excitement for 2019, was impressive in his 12 starts with the Cubs, posting a 2.26 ERA. He'll join starters Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Tyler Chatwood and possibly Mike Montgomery.

Tweet from @ColeHamels: Just wanted to let everyone know how excited I am that I get to wear this jersey again and play @ #Wrigleyfield. I look forward to a 2019 @Cubs #championshipseason pic.twitter.com/Ig8hxixFEi

But Chicago's bullpen needs reinforcements. The Cubs did pick up Pedro Strop's $6.25 million option and also are counting on a healthy Brandon Morrow. Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler and Brian Duensing are under contract for 2019, and Montgomery and Carl Edwards Jr. are both arbitration eligible and will be back.

Asked at the General Managers Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., on Tuesday if the Cubs are looking for a lefty who could help in late-inning situations, Hoyer said they weren't necessarily focused on finding a southpaw.

"That's ideal," Hoyer told reporters. "We're probably more focused on good relievers, honestly. The key is not just to have a good bullpen all year, but you've got to have that bullpen pitching well down the stretch, and part of it is having the depth to not overuse guys.

"The focus for us is to have a good rotation," Hoyer said. "Our bullpen performed exceptionally well last season, but we have to make sure it does that again by adding enough depth. I'm actually impressed our bullpen held up as well as it did given the short starts early in the season."

The Cubs relievers ranked fifth in the National League in innings pitched (588 1/3) and compiled the lowest ERA in the league (3.35). Cishek led the Cubs relievers with a career-high 70 1/3 innings pitched.

Video: CIN@CHC: Cishek retires Suarez, earns the save

What would help the Cubs is developing pitching in the system more effectively rather than having to rely on outside help. It's tough to find a Josh Hader elsewhere, Hoyer said.

"Candidly, those guys usually aren't found on the market very often, and they're found internally," he said. "We haven't been able to develop that guy. That guy makes a massive impact."

• What about the offense? The Cubs did finish the season leading the NL with a .258 batting average, but the first-half numbers didn't match the second half. Chicago compiled a .265/.345/.426 slash line in the first half with 100 home runs and 457 RBIs, but had a .249/.316/.389 line in the second half, hitting 67 homers and totaling 265 RBIs.

Since the end of 2018 season, the Cubs have dismissed hitting coach Chili Davis and brought back Anthony Iapoce, who was the organization's Minor League hitting coordinator for three seasons.

"For our group, we felt returning to some of our roots and going back to get Iapoce was the right thing to do," Hoyer said, adding that they were still trying to figure out how much of the struggles were because of the hitting program and how much were because of the individual players' problems.

Do the Cubs need to add another hitter to the lineup?

"I feel really comfortable where we are with our offense," Hoyer said. "You look around the diamond, and all the guys have performed in different years exceptionally well, and they're still young. ... In the second half, we kind of cratered and a number of guys underperformed. I think we have a plenty good offense if we don't add a hitter, but that said, we'll look around. We'll have discussions, but our focus is on our own guys."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs