The Cubs’ offseason began with Jed Hoyer building his front office going into his second year as team president. He went a year without a general manager after his promotion before hiring Carter Hawkins to fill the role. Now that the dust has settled from the front-office movement, the work begins on the roster.
Coming off a season that saw the Cubs lose 90-plus games for the first time since 2014, there are several holes to fill, but some are more urgent than others. With a commitment to be active in free agency and some payroll flexibility, it won’t be impossible for them to address their needs.
The most glaring need is in the starting rotation.
The Cubs’ starting pitching was their downfall last season. Even before the trades of Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo, the rotation put the Cubs behind the eight-ball. Far too often in 2021, the Cubs would get only three or four innings from their starters, putting lots of stress on the bullpen.
Cubs starters churned out a 5.27 ERA, good for 27th in the majors. They were also 26th in earned runs allowed and 28th in WHIP.
‘‘If you sort of look at the whole season, there’s no question that we have to acquire more pitching — better pitching — this winter,’’ Hoyer said this month. ‘‘I think that’ll be the No. 1 priority because that was the downfall of this season. Our rotation was short, and we weren’t effective enough in terms of run prevention.’’
Right-hander Kyle Hendricks will return to the top of the rotation next season, but who will join him? Right-hander Alec Mills was the team’s second-best starter for the majority of the season before scuffling down the stretch. Still, he likely will be looking at a spot in the rotation along with Hendricks.
Right-handers Adbert Alzolay and Keegan Thompson and left-hander Justin Steele all got their opportunities to pitch in a big-league rotation in 2021. Alzolay had the most success, but he went through his share of growing pains in the process. Steele ended the season with a career-high seven scoreless innings, but Thompson never found his groove as a starter.
While the Cubs won’t say where those three will fit in next season, they’ll continue to be creative in how they deploy them, even if it means pitching in non-traditional roles.
‘‘We’ve seen teams do a creative job of piecing some rotation spots together with guys going . . . three and four innings at a time, and sometimes that can actually give your bullpen more of a break,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘And so the most important thing is, how do you get 27 outs in a game? I think the way that’s happening in baseball is evolving, and I think that’s in a lot of ways a good thing.’’
The Cubs obviously will be adding to their starting-pitching depth this offseason, and there are some interesting names available. Among the options will be Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Rodon, Kevin Gausman, Robbie Ray and Marcus Stroman.
Based on where the Cubs are in the timeline of their rebuild, it might take them out of the running for some higher-priced free agents. Starters such as Jon Gray, Eduardo Rodriguez and Anthony DeSclafani are likely to be more in their range.
‘‘I think I’ve said repeatedly that we do have financial flexibility,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘We have money to spend this winter, but I think it’s really important that we do that in an intelligent way.’’