While 'very focused' on 2021, Cubs need to add pitching depth for present, future

Three-fifths of the Cubs' original rotation in 2020 has hit the free-agent market.

(670 The Score) As the virtual MLB Winter Meetings concluded Thursday, the Cubs continued to remain quiet in an offseason in which the goal is to balance staying highly competitive in 2021 while also turning an eye to transitioning to a new era.

Both for the present and the future, the Cubs need to add pitching depth to a staff that features uncertainty. Three-fifths of their original rotation in 2020 – Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood – has hit free agency. Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay are good bets to fill two of those open rotation slots, but president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer knows the club needs to build depth both in the rotation and in the bullpen as the game has continued to evolve.

“The way that people look at what a starting pitcher is supposed to do has changed,” Hoyer said. “We see in the playoffs over and over that the third time through the batting order, people are much warier of. As bullpens have gotten better and better, managers are prone to go to the fresh reliever to face that batter than go with the starter.”

The Cubs have left the door open to bringing back Lester, who turns 37 in January, after he had a 5.16 ERA in 12 starts in 2020. No substantive conversations have occurred between the Cubs and Lester or his representation yet this winter, but the willingness still seems to be there.

Through the years, the Cubs have obtained a lot of pitching on the free-agent market and through waiver claims or low-profile moves as they’ve struggled to draft and development their own arms. On Thursday, the Cubs added three pitchers in the Rule 5 Draft. Their hope is that their resources and infrastructure could turn a some unheralded pitchers and prospects into reliable contributors.

"We have done a good job over the last couple of years and suggested ideas and changes to certain pitcher mechanics, and we do as well now as other teams do,” Hoyer said. “In this case, I think Rowan Wick and Jason Adam are good examples to focus on. We did this with Wick trying to develop his curveball and Adam his slider. This will not always work, but we feel that we have the infrastructure in place to try it. We have had some success in areas that gives us confidence in that.”

As Hoyer has referenced on a number of occasions, the Cubs are trying to thread the needle of balancing the present and future this winter.

"We are very focused on the 2021 season,” Hoyer said Thursday. "That said, if there are moves we can make that can help our future, we have to look at those given that we have a lot of players that are close to the end of their arbitration years. We are certainly open to talking about those types of transactions, but we have a really good team we are bringing back and because there has been a focus on who is not here, at some point you should go around the diamond and see we have a very good team.”

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.