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Groundwork laid for Cubs' offseason plans

Adding rotation depth remains priority; Epstein thrilled with culture moving forward

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The General Managers Meetings wrapped up Thursday, completing what Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein called the "first inning" of the offseason. After meeting with at least six agents over three days regarding free agents, as well as talking possible trade options, Epstein said it's now time for teams to re-evaluate their game plans.

"Every offseason has a rhythm," Epstein said as he waited for his ride to the airport outside the Boca Raton Resort and Club. "The GM Meetings are the top of the first, and now we're at the bottom of the first. There's a long way to go.

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"The typical flow of the GM Meetings is teams come out with all these trade ideas and they think they make sense, and when they meet with the other teams, they realize, 'Maybe we were shooting a little too high.' That's the joking around a lot that you hear from other teams. They all kind of went through that. They'll go take a more realistic look at things. It's the same thing with the free-agent dynamic. It's still a feeling-out period -- not a lot of hard years and dollars discussed at this point."

The Cubs' goal this offseason is to add quality pitching; among the free-agent pitchers the Cubs discussed are David Price, Zack Greinke and Jordan Zimmermann. But Epstein has cautioned that the club will need to be creative to afford what it wants, and he did not anticipate signing anyone to a contract similar to the six-year, $155 million deal that lefty Jon Lester received from the Cubs last offseason.

Adding depth to the starting rotation is the Cubs' main focus.

No sitting back in ultra-competitive NL Central

"I do think we've been walking a tightrope with our lack of starting pitching depth, even beyond the first five guys -- like, six through 10," Epstein said. "There are a lot of teams that use 13 starting pitchers in a year. If we had that kind of season where we suffered significant attrition in our rotation, it would really be damaging to us."

With Lester still strong and ace Jake Arrieta under team control for two more seasons, the Cubs now have an opportunity to amass quite a bit of talent, taking advantage of the fact that the majority of their roster is so young.

"I think we're right at that point in the win curve where every win we can tack onto this roster on paper is potentially really, really meaningful," Epstein said. "I don't take that for granted at all."

Video: Jed Hoyer on growing the Cubs into championship team

It's quite a difference from one year ago. The Cubs enter this offseason without many areas to address because of the strength of their position players. Besides pitching, they may need a center fielder if free agent Dexter Fowler does not return. Chicago made a $15.8 million qualifying offer to Fowler, who has until Friday to accept. The Cubs are reportedly talking to free agent Ben Zobrist about a reunion with manager Joe Maddon, and there were reports on Thursday that the Cubs and Red Sox discussed a possible trade in which Chicago would receive outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. Epstein was the Red Sox's general manager when Bradley was selected as a compensatory pick, 40th overall, in the 2011 Draft.

A lot went right for the Cubs in 2015, resulting in a 97-win season and a trip to the National League Championship Series. While Epstein was proud of what the team did on the field under Maddon, he also noted the significance of other changes that helped push the culture of the club to another level.

"Beyond free agency and trades and the currency of the winter, I love what this organization is all about," Epstein said. "More than anything, it's the culture, and that will serve us well for the long term, beyond whatever trades we make or free agents we sign or don't sign.

"I think we have something that I would bet on more, which is the culture we've created, the process of acquiring and developing talent and having it break in at the big league level that will serve us well, and that's more important in the long run than anything we do or don't do this winter. It's our job to hit on a series of coin flips and make sure 2016 is special, too."

Worth noting
• The Cubs will move their radio broadcasts in 2016 to WSCR-AM 670. Games had been heard on WBBM-AM 780 in 2015. Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney announced the switch on Wednesday and said the Cubs expect to launch their own cable television channel in 2020.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.
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