Let's take a look at 10 realistic moves the Cubs should consider heading into this offseason.
The Cubs are going to have to be active on the free-agent market if they want any chance at improving on their 66-96 record. They have several holes to fill and several spots that need upgrades, evident by last year's performances.
The Cubs will also need to add some relief pitching and possibly add a starter before the team reports for spring training.
This isn't the deepest free-agent market compared to years past, so the Cubs will have to be creative to take steps forward while also making economical acquisitions.
Let's take a look at who they could realistically add this winter.
I've discussed outfielder David Murphy recently because he seems like a perfect fit for the Cubs in 2014. Not only is he coming off an uncharacteristically bad year, but he is only 32 years old and would be a left-handed bat the Cubs are seeking.
Murphy is a .272 hitter between 2010-2013, hitting at least 11 home runs every year since becoming an everyday player. He's the type of player with a proven track record that the Cubs could unload midseason to a team in the playoff hunt.
He's likely seeking a two- or three-year deal which is ideal for the Cubs, as it buys them time with their prospects while also giving Murphy added value if he can perform. It's a win-win.
If not Murphy, expect the Cubs to pursue someone of a similar mold.
One of the most reliable lefties on the free-agent market, Boone Logan is set to have a nice payday. Logan has averaged 68 appearances over the past three seasons while averaging a 3.47 ERA and a respectable 1.29 WHIP.
The Cubs are in need of left-handed arm to compliment James Russell, who has been overworked the past two seasons. It would also help to bring in a veteran staple who could fill a variety of roles as needed.
The only question is can he keep up the pace or will he become yet another overworked pitcher on the disabled list. Logan, however, has only averaged 45 innings over the past three years.
If not Logan, expect the Cubs to check-in on Javier Lopez or J.P. Howell.
Braves reliever Scott Downs is an excellent buy-low candidate this offseason. Coming off a great year in which he posted a 2.49 ERA in 68 appearances between the Angels and Braves, the 37-year-old is one of the top lefties on the market.
The Cubs not only need bullpen depth, but they need someone with experience who could potentially fill-in at closer in the event Pedro Strop does not pan out. Downs satisfies that requirement and would also give the Cubs another lefty out of the 'pen.
Originally drafted by the Cubs, he will likely seek a two-year deal with the possibility of a third year, perhaps performance-based.
Posting a .279 average in 154 at-bats, his highest average since 2009, Baker may be looking for a job that would give him at least 200-300 at-bats. The Cubs have that opening.
Baker proved to be very versatile for the Cubs, filling in around the infield and outfield at an above-average level. He would likely come on a short-term deal, if not a one-year deal, especially if he was looking for regular playing time at a variety of positions.
At 32, Baker can definitely handle the increased role and would likely be willing to return to Chicago, where he was crowd-pleaser despite his bench role.
This may not be the most popular choice, but the Cubs nearly traded for him last season and will likely pursue him again if the price is right.
The former ace is coming off two mediocre seasons, posting a combined 22-27 record with a 4.50 ERA in 60 starts. The switch to the NL clearly didn't improve his numbers, but the veteran posted a 3.52 ERA in his final 13 starts, something of a bright spot for him heading into free agency. He's also proven to be one of the more durable arms in the game.
His best numbers of the season came in his final five starts when he posted a 2.89 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. The 33-year-old is likely seeking a two- or three-year deal in the range of $8-10 million annually.
The Cubs would be lucky to get him on a one-year deal, but either way, he is a veteran who brings more value than just a durable arm.
The Cubs aren't expected to re-sign Dioner Navarro after a strong 2013 campaign, letting him hit the open market in search of a starting job.
The Cubs would probably look to re-sign him if they didn't have a capable young catcher in Welington Castillo, who hit .274 with eight home runs and a .349 OBP in 113 games.
That's why the Cubs may look to sign a veteran backstop like Brayan Pena, who filled in when injuries hit the Detroit Tigers this year. Pena, 31, hit .297 with 4 home runs in 71 games in 2013.
Pena would come at a reduced price and on a one- or two-year deal. He's not the most appealing candidate, but if the Cubs plan to spend big on pitching and the outfield, he is probably the best candidate out there.
Closer Joquin Benoit makes the list because I'm not totally convinced the Cubs will make Pedro Strop their closer. Strop looked great down the stretch for the Cubs but hardly has any closer experience and is being called on to fill a major void in the bullpen.
Ideally, the Cubs could ease him into the role like they planned to do at the end of the year. They don't have that chance anymore but still appear poised to give him a opportunity.
Signing a closer like Benoit, who was moved into the role created by injuries, would give the Cubs leverage and allow them to see what fits heading into the 2014 season. Benoit racked up 24 saves with a 2.01 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in 66 appearances.
The 36-year-old reliever could be enticed to join the bullpen with a lucrative two-year deal. He may pursue a closing job after his success, but it is possible he will take a job that is secure and fill-in as needed.
Phil Hughes is coming off the worst year of his career and may be better suited moving to the National League. Well, he's probably just better suited out of New York.
Coming into New York as a top pitching prospect, Hughes lived up to expectations briefly, but he has not been able to put it together and has been subjected to scrutiny all along the way.
There is no doubt Hughes has good stuff and an ability to pitch late into games, but the question comes down to consistency and health. Should the Cubs take a chance on the 27-year-old pitcher?
Hughes would give the Cubs a solid middle of the rotation starter who could fill-in like Jason Marquis did back in 2007-2008. A three-year deal in the range of $12-15 million annually would be a worthwhile investment, especially with the uncertainly among the Cubs' pitching prospects.
He's a great buy-low candidate who may be willing to take a one-year deal to revitalize his value.
Choo displayed an uncanny knack for getting on-base this season, posting a .285 average with 21 home runs, 107 runs, and a .423 OBP in 154 games.
The Cubs need more offense, and a player, preferably a left-handed bat, to take some attention off of Anthony Rizzo while giving him more opportunities to drive in runs. Choo would be that player, and he would be an intriguing long-term acquisition for the Cubs, considering the young talent that is nearing the majors.
Choo would give the Cubs some stability in the outfield, as well as a veteran presence in the lineup and clubhouse. While he is seeking upwards of $100 million this offseason, if the Cubs play their cards right, they could be poised to strike a deal.
When the World Series wraps up this week, Choo will hit the free-agent market, and then we will see if the Cubs are for real this offseason.
MLB.com's Phil Rogers is reporting that the Cubs will make signing Masahiro Tanaka a priority this offseason. The 24-year-old pitcher is dominating hitters in Japan and is certain to attract considerable attention this offseason.
The Cubs have been heavily involved in international markets in recent years, but appear most serious about Tanaka, who fits in perfectly with the Cubs' long-term plans. Rogers writes on Tanaka:
He’s 6-2, 205 pounds with a fastball that tops out at 97 and a splitter that is wicked. He gets a lot of ground balls to go with swings and misses, and he will pitch at age 25 next season, meaning he should be at the peak of his career in 2015, when the Cubs hope to become consistent playoff contenders behind a rebuilt farm system and some well-chosen free agents.
Recently, I suggested the Cubs may be wise to avoid him as they are not as far along as they would like to be. However, Rogers makes a great point on how the Cubs need to do something to catch up to the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates.
Adding Tanaka would give them a perennial ace who could pitch in the majors at a high-level for the next decade.