Cubs' Meetings to-do list starts with bullpen

Cubs' Meetings to-do list starts with bullpen

CHICAGO -- While Cubs fans fulfill their holiday shopping lists with World Series-themed T-shirts and mugs, the front office is assessing what it needs to do to repeat as champions.

Heading into the Winter Meetings, which open Monday, the Cubs are focused on finding complements for their young players, which include National League Most Valuable Player Award winner Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Chicago already added one such player in free-agent center fielder Jon Jay, who signed a one-year, $8 million contract on Tuesday and joined the team's deep crop of outfield options.

• Cubs aim to build around nucleus at Winter Meetings

"It says a lot about our team, being so young and being able to win a World Series this year," Bryant said. "Knowing that we're going to have this core together for a handful of years, there's a lot of opportunity in front of us. And it's up to us to make the most of it."

MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. Fans can watch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 8 at 8 a.m. CT.

What's on the Cubs' to-do list?

Club needs

Closer: With Aroldis Chapman leaving via free agency, the Cubs have a few in-house options as closer. They could put Hector Rondon back in that role or look at Carl Edwards Jr. for the ninth inning. Rondon went 14-for-18 in save opportunities in the first half of this past season, compiling a 1.72 ERA. He missed time because of a tight triceps, and posted a 6.41 ERA in 22 games after the All-Star break. Whether Edwards is ready to handle a more stressful workload and more innings is still to be determined.

Edwards Jr. strikes out Napoli

Bullpen: Who closes isn't the only issue to be addressed regarding the relief corps. Travis Wood led all Cubs relievers in innings pitched, plus he could sub in the outfield. He's now a free agent. So is Trevor Cahill. The Cubs will likely be looking at possible adds here, especially if Mike Montgomery goes to the rotation to replace Jason Hammel.

The Cubs appeared to get a head start on adding lefties on Friday when they signed Brian Duensing to a one-year deal.

Leadoff man: Dexter Fowler filled this role ably, but he's not expected to surprise the Cubs and rejoin them in 2017 as he tries to secure a long-term deal as a free agent, which was a big reason the Cubs added Jay, whose solid on-base percentage puts him in the mix to bat leadoff. Jason Heyward is coming off a career-low .306 on-base percentage, Kyle Schwarber returns and Ben Zobrist is in the mix, but are any of them the right guy for manager Joe Maddon to say, "You go, we go?"

Jay signs deal with Cubs

Who they can trade if necessary

OF Jorge Soler: Soler would be a very attractive piece to an American League team looking for a designated hitter and part-time outfielder. He hit a career-high 12 home runs and showed more patience at the plate this past season. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said he feels Soler has more to offer on offense, projecting possibly 30 homers. Said Epstein: "It's so obviously in there, we'd like to see him reach his full potential with us if possible." That said, with all the outfielders the Cubs have, Soler might be a trade chip if they find a good match.

Top prospects

Top prospect Ian Happ batted .279 at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee, and then played in the Arizona Fall League. He capped his year by hitting home runs from both sides of the plate in the AFL championship game. Jeimer Candelario, ranked No. 4 on MLB.com's list of Top 30 Cubs prospects, impressed Maddon in Spring Training and batted .333 with nine homers and 54 RBIs in 76 games at Triple-A Iowa. Lefty Rob Zastryzny, the 20th-ranked prospect, could win a spot in the bullpen or rotation.

Happ homers from both sides

Keep an eye on young pitchers Dylan Cease, ranked No. 3; Duane Underwood, ranked sixth; Justin Steele, ranked 23rd; and Carson Sands, ranked 24th. They may not be ready in 2017, but they're getting close.

Rule 5 Draft

The Cubs' 40-man roster is at 38 players, and they are not likely to take a player in the Rule 5 Draft. They did add Underwood, catcher Victor Caratini, pitcher Jack Leathersich and outfielder Jacob Hannemann to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Draft.

Big contracts they might unload

Miguel Montero is owed $14 million in 2017, the last year of his contract, which is a lot to pay a backup catcher. The Cubs project Willson Contreras as the everyday backstop next year. Montero is valuable as a mentor to Contreras, and with David Ross retired, the Cubs are expected to carry two catchers and have more versatility on the bench.

Payroll summary

The Cubs have $118.6 million committed to players as far as payroll, with four players arbitration-eligible, including Rondon, Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. 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.