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updated: 11/1/2012 7:35 PM

Cubs looking to bolster starting rotation

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  • Cubs president Theo Epstein, left, and general manager Jed Hoyer have targeted starting pitchers as an off-season priority.

      Cubs president Theo Epstein, left, and general manager Jed Hoyer have targeted starting pitchers as an off-season priority.
    Associated Press File Photo

 
 

The baseball off-season should begin to heat up now that the World Series is over.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer will head to the GM meetings next week in Palm Springs, Calif.

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Although these meetings tend to be groundwork-setting in nature, Hoyer said he and team president Theo Epstein have had "a lot of dialogue with teams already and with a lot of agents of free agents" the Cubs have targeted.

After a season in which the Cubs finished 61-101, Epstein and Hoyer should be busy. Their shopping lists include at least two major-league-quality starting pitchers.

"It's at least two, is probably the way to say it," Hoyer said Thursday. "We have to really focus on our depth. That's probably the most important thing.

"Certainly, we have to go out and find some major-league-quality starting pitching, but we also have to add to our depth.

"From Day One -- I guess we've been on the job about a year -- we've been staring at the same picture. It's a minor-league system that was devoid of pitching prospects at its upper levels that aren't producing the depth that we need.

"Some of the things we did for starting pitching worked last off-season. Some of the things we did for starting pitching didn't work.

"But we're going to have to endeavor on the exact same experience this off-season: trying to find guys we can plug right into our rotation and find other guys, maybe minor-league free agents or guys who we can plug into our minor-league system we can bring up during the year."

The rotation now consists of right-handers Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija and left-hander Travis Wood. Garza was shut down in late July because of an elbow injury, and the Cubs ended Samardzija's season in early September because of concerns about innings pitched.

It's unlikely the Cubs will go the big-ticket multiyear route. Instead, they'll try to find a pitcher or two like lefty Paul Maholm, whom they signed last off-season and traded at the end of July.

The Cubs appear to have financial flexibility, but they likely won't go for large free-agent commitments until they're ready to contend year after year.

"We have pretty significant flexibility," Hoyer said. "We're going to be aggressive in free agency, but we're not going to do things that are going to limit us going forward where we feel like we're hindered by a certain contract.

"We have some money to spend, and we will be active in trying to improve our team for next year and take shots on guys.

"I think the contracts we signed last winter are a good model, and I think we have a chance to sign more of those this year."

Dempster doings:

Hoyer said the Cubs have had contact with former ace Ryan Dempster, whom they traded to Texas in late July after Dempster nixed a trade to the Atlanta Braves.

The likelihood of re-signing Dempster to a free-agent deal doesn't appear great, but Hoyer said Dempster's somewhat messy exit "won't preclude bringing him back."

"There's been contact with him, certainly, but I don't want to characterize interest, because next thing you know, it's a story that, 'The Cubs are all over Dempster,'" Hoyer said.

"Ryan does fit that role (as the type of pitcher the Cubs have interest in). There has been contact. It's preliminary. I wouldn't over-characterize it and have it the lead story, but he pitched well here for a long time and the people really respect what he'd done, and they should."

Injury updates:

Infield prospect Javier Baez has a non-displaced fracture of his right thumb, and Baez will miss the rest of the Arizona Fall League season. (The injury at first was widely reported as to the left thumb.)

Hoyer said Baez may have suffered the injury giving a high-five last weekend.

On other injuries, Hoyer said Matt Garza will have another scan of his elbow later this month, but the Cubs remain optimistic because Garza feels good.

Health also may determine whether the Cubs offer a contract to third baseman Ian Stewart, whose season ended in June because of wrist surgery.

bmiles@dailyherald.com

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