In 'winning window,' Cubs out to fine-tune at Meetings

Club's needs include center fielder, bench help

In 'winning window,' Cubs out to fine-tune at Meetings

CHICAGO -- At last year's Winter Meetings, Joe Maddon was still in the "getting to know you" phase of his relationship with the Cubs. He'd only been on the job as manager for one month and was still easing into his new gig.

Now Maddon heads to the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., with a good feel for his roster and what's ahead after the Cubs won 97 games in 2015 and earned a trip to the postseason. Expectations are high for the team and Maddon, who won the National League Manager of the Year Award for his efforts, and Cubs fans are eager to see what the team does at next week's Winter Meetings.

John Lackey will join the starting rotation; will anyone else? Who will fill Dexter Fowler's designer shoes in center field?

Hot Stove Tracker

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer described the team as being in a "winning window," rather than in building mode. That's what happens when you reach the National League Championship Series. Now it's a matter of fine-tuning. The Cubs have a good core of young players in Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Starlin Castro. Maddon will likely be asked about how he'll protect against a sophomore jinx for some of the rookies. But what's next for the team overall?

Hoyer on building a winner

MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, with the Network launching 35 hours of live Winter Meetings coverage on Sunday at 7 p.m. CT. Fans can also catch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, as well as the announcement of the Hall of Fame Pre-Integration Era Committee inductees on Monday at 10 a.m. CT and the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 9 a.m. CT.

What will the Cubs do? Stay tuned.

Club needs

Center field: The Cubs made a qualifying offer to Fowler, hoping he would return for another season, but he wants to test the free-agent market. Fowler is coming off a season in which he set career highs in games played, runs scored and home runs. His departure leaves a huge hole not only in center, but at the top of the lineup. The Cubs don't have a prospect who is close to filling that void.

Bench: Maddon likes versatile players, and that is especially true of the guys on the bench. They want to cut down on strikeouts, too, so expect more contact-type players. That should mean the addition of players like Tommy La Stella.

Who they can trade if necessary
Castro's name has been mentioned as possible trade bait, and he certainly improved his value by making a successful switch from shortstop to second base. His contract also is trade friendly, as he is owed $40 million over the next four years. But because he did so well at second, the Cubs may decide Castro is more valuable to them. Soler's name also has been linked in possible trades.

Top prospects
Per MLB.com, the Cubs' Top 10 Prospects are shortstop Gleyber Torres, outfielder Billy McKinney, right-handed pitcher Carl Edwards Jr., right-hander Duane Underwood, outfielder Albert Almora, outfielder Ian Happ, right-handed pitcher Pierce Johnson, outfielder Donnie Dewees, outfielder Mark Zagunis and catcher Willson Contreras.

Top Prospects: Torres, CHC

Contreras was the Cubs' 2015 Minor League Player of the Year after batting .333 at Double-A Tennessee. He'll likely open at Triple-A Iowa. Edwards was promoted to the Majors in September, and he only appeared in five games but stayed with the team through the postseason. He is the closest of the group to being Major League ready. Torres, a gifted defensive player, hit .293 at Class A South Bend, and he's expected to begin at Double-A in 2016.

Top Prospects: Contreras, CHC

Rule 5 Draft
The last player the Cubs selected and kept was reliever Hector Rondon, now the closer. He was picked off the Indians' roster in December 2012. The Cubs could be active as they try to find help for the bench and more bullpen arms.

Big contracts they might unload
The remaining four years and $40 million on Castro's deal could make him attractive to teams looking for middle-infield help. As stated above, Castro's deal also makes him a nice fit with the Cubs.

Payroll summary
The Cubs' 2015 payroll was about $120 million. With the commitments for 2016 plus the projected salaries for the arbitration-eligible players, the Cubs have about $115 million committed for next year. The new television contract wasn't expected to be finalized until after the 2019 season. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has said they'll need to be creative to add players.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.