Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said this will be a "challenging offseason" as the team tries to fill the pitching vacancies created by the departure of free agents Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Wade Davis.
Speaking in Orlando, Fla., at the General Manager Meetings, Hoyer said Monday the Cubs have maintained contact with the agents for the three pitchers, who are deciding which direction to go. The Cubs did make qualifying offers to Arrieta and Davis, and the deadline for them to decide whether to accept is Thursday.
"My experience is when a guy gets to this point [and is a free agent], they generally want to see what's out there, as they should," Hoyer told reporters. "We'll be in contact a lot. They should listen to what other teams think as well."
Do the Cubs dip into the free-agent market as well to acquire two starters? Or do they make a trade?
"There's no doubt pitching is expensive," Hoyer said. "It's expensive in trade, it's expensive in free agency. It's not going to change. That's the market, and we have to figure out a way to fill in the rotation, fill in the bullpen, and that's the offseason goal.
"It is a challenging offseason to figure out exactly how to do that. You want to be creative, but at the same time, you want to remember the offseason is just one talent point in many, and there will be more opportunities to acquire talent. You have to make some tough decisions, no matter what."
One internal option could be right-hander Alec Mills, who was pitching in the Arizona Fall League to make up for missed time during the regular season as he dealt with injuries. He ranks No. 20 in the Cubs' system, per MLBPipeline.com.
However, the Cubs may have to deal one of their young position players to acquire a starter.
"Whenever we talk to teams, the last three years, that's the area of interest," Hoyer said. "We won a ton of games with these players, and we know their value."
According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, the Cubs have inquired about Orioles closer Zach Britton, who saved 15 of 17 games and posted a 2.89 ERA last season. A strained left forearm limited him in 2017. Britton totaled a career-high 47 saves in 2016.
Davis and Greg Holland are the top closers available on the free-agent market. Davis went 32-of-33 in save opportunities in his first year with the Cubs, while Holland finished with 41 saves, tied for the National League lead with the Dodgers' Kenley Jansen.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.