NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was able to check off item No. 1 on his offseason checklist before the Winter Meetings began. Now, it's time to focus on 1A.
The Cubs bolstered the rotation by agreeing to terms with free agent John Lackey on a two-year, $32 million contract, which will be finalized once the right-hander completes a physical.
"Starting pitching is No. 1, because I think we need to find someone who can slot right into our rotation," Epstein said Friday about the Cubs' offseason wish list. "We also need depth. Center field and leadoff is 1A. It's something we need to find even if [the next center fielder] doesn't hit leadoff. Outfield defense at that position has to be a priority for us."
The Cubs are looking for a center fielder following Dexter Fowler's departure via free agency. Chicago did make a qualifying offer to Fowler, and the two sides are still talking.
Among the free agent center fielders on the market are Denard Span, 32, and Gerardo Parra, 29. Span had hip and back problems last season, which limited him to 61 games. Parra batted .291 in 155 games with the Brewers and Orioles.
The Cubs also may find the right fit through a trade. Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer also would like to add more depth to the rotation if possible. Lackey was one piece -- but a key one. He will be reunited with Red Sox teammates Jon Lester and David Ross as well as Epstein, who signed the right-hander in December 2009 to a five-year, $82.5 million contract in Boston.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon knows Lackey from their days together with the Angels. Maddon, who was the Angels' bench coach at that time, said he had flashbacks after watching the right-hander beat Chicago in Game 1 of the National League Division Series this past season.
"I saw him as a young man in 2002, and yeah, he was always kind of fearless," Maddon said in October. "He comes from Texas, kind of does the John Wayne strut out there."
Lester, who collected his first Major League hit off Lackey in July, has nothing but respect for his buddy.
"He's just such a good competitor, you know," Lester said in October. "He's going to almost outwill you sometimes, if that makes sense. I learned a lot from him in Boston."
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.