Epstein outlines Cubs' offseason plan

CHICAGO -- Now that the Chicago Cubs have settled on a coaching staff for 2013, attention will turn to filling out a roster.

Big-ticket free agents aren’t on the top of the Cubs’ wish list just yet, but club president Theo Epstein does have some ideas on how he and general manager Jed Hoyer will fill in the roster gaps this winter.

First and foremost, Epstein confirmed that the Cubs are looking to add at least two starting pitchers. But there are also plans to add to the rotation internally.

At third base, where the Cubs received little-to-no production this past season, the club could be willing to give Ian Stewart another chance, provided he no longer has health concerns stemming from a chronic sore wrist.

And in the outfield, the Cubs are focused on adding either a center fielder or a right fielder and depending on what they land, David DeJesus will take over the remaining position. Tony Campana still needs to show considerable improvement offensively to be considered an Opening Day center field candidate.

Assuming Matt Garza returns completely healed from a bone contusion in his right elbow that cost him the final 2 1/2 months of the season, the Cubs have three set starters next season in Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood.

As for adding two starters, despite having some internal options, Epstein identifies those potential additions as certainties to make the rotation. He said a fall-back plan could still be acquiring one certain starter and three or four pitchers that would compete for a spot, but that is far from the ideal scenario.

“We have the supply-demand chart in the office and the Twins came out and said, I think earlier today, that they are looking for three (starters),” Epstein said. “It’s like an auction: This team needs two, this team needs three, this team needs three, this team needs two. There is probably a lot more demand for starting pitching than there is supply so we’ll have to be creative.”

Of the 44 pitchers who are either free agents or have contract options for 2013 who need to be decided upon, only 13 of them are under the age of 32. Expect the Cubs to look at the under-32 crowd first, a collection that includes the likes of Edwin Jackson, Francisco Liriano, Shaun Marcum and Brandon McCarthy.

The most interesting option for a starter who already is Cubs property is Arodys Vizcaino, who was acquired from the Atlanta Braves at the trade deadline in a deal that cost the Cubs Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm.

Vizcaino is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, but is expected to return at some point in spring training. The Cubs will also turn Alberto Cabrera back into a starter, which means he will have to return to Triple-A to hone his new craft. Cabrera posted a 5.40 ERA in 25 outings out of the bullpen with the Cubs this past season.

One long shot starting candidate would be James Russell, who could essentially get the same treatment Samardzija got last winter and be turned into a starter. Epstein admitted that discussions have taken place about moving Russell to the rotation, but he sounded more inclined to keep the left-hander in the back end of the bullpen.

As for third baseman Stewart, who is arbitration eligible this winter, the Cubs are still curious to see what he can do when healthy. There is a possibility he can be non-tendered this season and signed for less than he would have made through the arbitration process, but Epstein declined to get specific about the club’s options.

The Cubs aren’t too keen on looking for a long-term option at third base right now. They feel that a long-term third baseman could eventually be developed from their pool of prospects that includes Josh Vitters, Junior Lake (currently a shortstop) and Christian Villanueva. Even Javier Baez could play some third base, like he is currently doing in the Arizona Fall League, but the Cubs still see his ideal position as a shortstop.

With his speed and ability to play center field, Campana has intrigue as the Opening Day center fielder, but he still needs to show more. The Cubs are pleased with his decision to play winter ball this year.

“I think the bat will dictate his future role in the big leagues,” Epstein said. “He’s a good defender and an outstanding base runner but so far there hasn’t been much impact coming off his bat as far as on-base skills. We’re all rooting for him.”