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Without major moves, the Cubs could miss the postseason in 2018

From ESPN - November 14, 2017

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Are the Chicago Cubs at a crossroads?

Not exactly. Not after making it to the postseason three consecutive years with a young core that should still be getting better. But theyve also stated that they want to make the postseason about seven times over the next 10 years, which means potentially not making it to October a few times. Could 2018 be one of those seasons? Its possible simply because of the challenges at hand.

The front office knows this and admits to having specific work to do this offseason. Theyve known that work was coming for several years.

I think fans should be extremely optimistic about this seven-year run that were hopefully on, and by no means do we look at it as a run of three years of contention and any sort of fall-off, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said as the general managers meetings began Monday at the lavish Waldorf Astoria in Orlando. But within any run of length, there are going to be years that pose more challenges than other years. Weve known for a long time that 2018 was going to pose unique challenges because it was the year Jake [Arrieta] was eligible for free agency. It was also the same year a lot of our best players would enter the arbitration process.

Its the year John Lackey became a free agent, creating a second hole in the starting rotation. Thats the Cubs No. 1 focus this winter. Not far behind is a bullpen that needs some work, potentially including a new closer.

All teams, every year, have holes to fill. The Cubs have extremely important ones to fill in order to contend again. Theyre not filling out roster spots Nos. 24 and 25 -- more like Nos. 4 and 5. Thats if you consider starting pitching the most important part of a baseball team. On top of it, the Cubs have their eyes on the free-agent class of next offseason, which includes sluggers Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, among others.

The Cubs have been clear about one thing in multiple interviews since the season ended: They will be cautious with their dollars while keeping future seasons in mind.

I think there is a danger in simply being completely focused on building the best team for Opening Day, general manager Jed Hoyer said on ESPN 1000 last week. I think you have to look at it over multiple years and look at what players are available now [and] what players are available going forward.

With that backdrop, the Cubs offseason begins. Well begin with their most important need. Filling out the starting staff will go a long way toward making the Cubs serious contenders in 2018.

Starting pitching

The Cubs made their big trade for a starting pitcher, getting Jose Quintana from the White Sox, last season. Its simply not likely that theyll find a match again, though its very likely that theyll be on the phones trying all winter.

Even though they might not break the bank, the Cubs will be players for free-agent pitchers, including one of their own, Arrieta. There has been no momentum for an Arrieta reunion so far, but hes likely to circle back to the Cubs after receiving offers elsewhere. Assuming he gets max dollars from another team, Arrieta is likely gone. He has shown no willingness to give the Cubs a hometown discount.

Meanwhile, the front office is casting a wide net, with Rays righty Alex Cobb in their sights. According to a source familiar with the situation, they reached out to Cobb early in the free-agent process, as he checks a lot of boxes. Hes a couple of years removed from an arm injury, has good stuff, would be making the move from the American League to the pitcher-hitting National League and gets an A+ in terms of fitting into the Cubs' clubhouse. Dont dismiss that last notion. The Cubs are very mindful of whom they let into their club -- especially on a multiyear, big-money deal.

If they sign a pitcher such as Cobb, they can fill out the last rotation spot with anyone from a reclamation project such as former Red Sox hurler Clay Buchholz to a returning pitcher from Japan such as Miles Mikolas to perhaps Lackey if he indeed is not retiring. As stated previously, theres a wide net.

The bullpen

Unlike last offseason, when the Cubs had no intention of re-signing Aroldis Chapman, closer Wade Davis still could be in the mix for a return engagement.

Not only did he have an outstanding year, he was a terrific leader in the bullpen, Epstein said.

Last year there was a run on closers. That might not be the case this winter, as many -- but not all -- of the potential contending teams have their ninth-inning guys. Perhaps unlike with Arrieta, its possible that the low-key Davis is willing to compromise to stay in Chicago. Perhaps a three-year, $50 million-$55 million deal could get it done.

Trades

The offense

The window for contention

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