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posted: 1/23/2014 10:35 PM

After a tough month, where do Cubs go from here?

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  • Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka speaks during a press conference at the Rakuten Eagles' stadium in Sendai, northeastern Japan, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. Tanaka said he chose to play for the New York Yankees because they appreciated him the most. Speaking after agreeing a $155 million, seven-year deal with the Yankees, Tanaka said "they gave me the highest evaluation and are a world-famous team."

      Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka speaks during a press conference at the Rakuten Eagles' stadium in Sendai, northeastern Japan, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. Tanaka said he chose to play for the New York Yankees because they appreciated him the most. Speaking after agreeing a $155 million, seven-year deal with the Yankees, Tanaka said "they gave me the highest evaluation and are a world-famous team."
    Associated Press

 
 

The Cubs' only formal announcement over the last week or so was that they will have a team mascot for the first time in modern history.

It's not been the greatest of weeks for the old Chicago National League ballclub.

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Consider:

• They lost out to the New York Yankees in the bidding for pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. In fairness, it wasn't for lack of trying or an unwillingness to spend money on the part of team president Theo Epstein.

• The annual fan convention was a lackluster affair featuring ticked-off fans who wanted to know why they should continue to pay good money for a bad product, a product that seems destined to lose somewhere around 100 games this year.

• The Cubs' fight with the neighboring rooftop owners seems nowhere close to a resolution. In fact, things got nastier this week as talks between the Cubs and the roofies reportedly collapsed in acrimony just a couple days after the Cubs expressed optimism a deal would get done and they could begin their much-needed renovation of Wrigley Field.

All of this has taken the focus off the field -- not necessarily a bad thing considering the state of the team -- but in just three weeks, the Cubs will gather in their sparkling new facility in Mesa, Ariz., to begin preparing for the 2014 baseball season.

Things don't look good, as the Cubs bring back essentially the same team that went 66-96 in 2013. Tanaka would have been a great addition, but even he couldn't have prevented the Cubs from, say, a 90-loss season this year. The big payoff would have come over the next couple of years, when the Cubs' prized prospects began bubbling up to the major-league level and producing.

But a reported offer of six years and $120 million was no match for the Yankees' winning bid of seven years and $155 million, plus an opt-out clause.

Who knows how it will turn out in the Bronx? It might be that the Cubs missed out on the pitching find of the century, or it could turn out like another situation did a few years back.

In the fall of 2000, then-Cubs president and GM Andy MacPhail took along his assistant, Jim Hendry, and a representative of the Tribune Co. to meet in person with free-agent pitcher Mike Hampton.

The Cubs weren't known as big spenders, but MacPhail managed to spit out an offer of about $105 million for Hampton, who chose the Colorado Rockies (with Hampton citing the schools in the Denver area as a big reason; the eight years and $121 million he got were probably incidental). Hampton pitched in 62 games for the Rockies over two seasons, going 21-28 with a 5.75 ERA.

So where do the Cubs go from here?

Their offense is a big question mark, and it needs big bounce-back years from Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs get little or nothing offensively from second base. Nobody knows who's on third. The production they'll get from the outfield doesn't promise to be anything special.

What the Cubs do need is a starting pitcher to fit in behind Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson.

Left-hander Paul Maholm, who pitched well for the Cubs in 2012 before being traded off in the first midseason purge of the new regime could be a nice short-term fit. When the Cubs got Maholm, he was only 29, and it could be argued they should have kept him.

Maholm (10-11, 4.41 ERA last season) could be an effective fourth starter (or third, depending on how Jackson pitches), and his clubhouse presence is a positive.

If not Maholm, the Cubs need somebody else. After their top three, the candidates for the rotation heading into spring training are Jake Arrieta, Justin Grimm, Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin. Veteran swing man Carlos Villanueva is still there, but he again may see action as both a starter and reliever.

Kyle Hendricks is an intriguing prospect. He was the Cubs' minor-league pitcher of the year in 2013, but he's likely to open 2014 in the rotation at Class AAA Iowa. All of the pitchers the Cubs drafted and traded for the last couple of years are a year, if not more, away from the big leagues.

The Cubs may choose to lie low this weekend and let the White Sox have the spotlight at SoxFest.

It might be their best move of the month so far.

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