CHICAGO -- The future is bright for the Cubs. Joe Maddon will be back in 2016. The rookies won't be rookies anymore, and they now have postseason experience on their resumes. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein doesn't expect complacency, but rather feels the players will be even more motivated when they report to Mesa, Ariz., in February.
"They're going to come back extremely hungry and extremely focused and in great shape and take it to the next level," Epstein said the day after the Cubs were eliminated in the National League Championship Series by the Mets.
There are a few holes to fill. The Cubs will be looking for versatile players, which will give them more depth, and for at least one more quality starting pitcher this offseason.
Chicago won 97 games and had the third-best record in the Major Leagues, yet the club finished third in its division. The Cardinals and Pirates, who finished ahead of the Cubs, will re-load for next year.
"It's an incredibly competitive landscape in the NL, and that motivates us," Epstein said. "With what's going on in the NL, it's a better approach to say that in order to compete with our teams in our division, we have to attain a really high standard. We have to put ourselves in a position with the chance to be great."
Maddon is the sixth Cubs manager to take the team to the postseason in his first year at the helm. Playing in October will help enforce his teaching points in Spring Training.
"Guys who have never been through [the playoffs] before, and you talk about the little minutiae, it doesn't really resonate with them sometimes," Maddon said. "Now, having gone through this, getting the bunt down, hitting the cutoff man, being in the right position, whatever, it's an easier sell."
The Cubs could only watch as the Mets celebrated at Wrigley Field when they won the NL pennant. Next year, they want to be spraying champagne.
"We want to continue to add impact pitching," Epstein said. "We want to continue to add starting pitching depth at the big league level."
Bullpen: Closer Rondon finished strong, posting a 1.10 ERA in the second half, and the Cubs just need to sort out the rest of the bullpen. Strop and Grimm will be back, and the Cubs are hoping Neil Ramirez can contribute as a set-up man. Wood began the season in the rotation, but the lefty thrived in relief, posting a 2.95 ERA. Where he fits is to be determined. The Cubs may give right-hander Trevor Cahill and Richard another look after both provided key relief in the second half.
Catcher: The Cubs were happy with Miguel Montero's first half, but a thumb injury may have hindered the veteran in after the All-Star break. Rookie Kyle Schwarber will continue to work on his catching but could see games in the outfield to keep his bat in the lineup. The Cubs recognize most catchers need three to four years in the Minors.
"When the alternative is sticking that kind of bat in the Minor Leagues until he's Johnny Bench defensively, I like the imperfect path," Epstein said. David Ross will be back, too.
First base: The good news is Anthony Rizzo was able to be the ironman on the team, playing in 160 games. Chicago may try to add someone on the bench who can give Rizzo, 26, a breather now and then. He somehow played that many games despite being hit by a pitch a Major League-leading 30 times.
Second base: Remember when the 2015 season began? Tommy La Stella and Arismendy Alcantara were sharing second, but La Stella got hurt and Alcantara struggled. Rookie Addison Russell was promoted, and despite being a natural shortstop, he was asked to learn second at the big league level. Russell handled the transition well, but then Maddon made a key in-season move, switching Russell to short. Starlin Castro eventually took over at second, and he shined in the move. Who starts on Opening Day 2016? It could be Castro.
Third base:Kris Bryant started 10 games in the outfield, and he may be considered a better fit there, but he would prefer third base. He finished with a .951 fielding percentage, eighth best in the NL. Maddon likes having moveable parts, so Javier Baez could sub at third if needed.
Shortstop: This is Russell's best spot. In his first season, he led the team and ranked seventh in the NL in pitches per plate appearance, a solid achievement for a 21-year-old. He also batted 33 points higher in the second half than the first. Russell will only get better.
Outfield: The Cubs are hoping Jorge Soler can stay healthy for a full season to patrol right, and they'll insert Schwarber in left to keep his bat in the lineup. The Cubs' other option is Coghlan, who batted .317 in June but hit .219 in July. Center field needs to be filled if Fowler opts to leave via free agency. Fowler ranked fourth in the NL with a career-high 102 runs scored and called the Cubs "the best group of guys I've been around." Is that enough for him to return?