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Cubs on fast track at GM meetings

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs' front office will go prospecting in the California desert this week, looking for a lead on a starting pitcher or two.

Fresh off the collapse of a trade with the Los Angeles Angels this weekend that would have landed right-handed starter Dan Haren, the Cubs will engage in more talks this week when the annual general managers meetings take place in Indian Wells, Calif.

The Cubs' three official representatives at the meetings, which run from Wednesday to Friday, will be president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer, and senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod. Assistant general managers Randy Bush and Shiraz Rehman also will be on hand.

While trades are still an option for the Cubs to fill rotation spots as well as bullpen, third-base and center-field voids, there is the free-agent route, as well, and representatives of available players also will be on hand this week.

“I would probably go in with the expectation that it’s groundwork with the possibility that things move a little faster [this year],” Hoyer said of the strategy for the meetings. “That would be pretty early. It’s a little earlier GM meetings even by GM meetings standards.”

The fact remains that the offseason is expected to proceed a little quicker this year. One big change is that free agents who receive qualifying offers from their teams will have to decide on them by Friday. Before the most recent collective bargaining agreement was reached, players could wait until the first week of December to decide if they would accept salary arbitration.

“That speeds things up a little bit that people will have that information earlier,” Hoyer said. “Dec. 7 was always that date and people would wait to see what would happen. But we don’t know if one player in a particular market will hold out and everybody waits for that guy to fall. That could happen as well.”

Rather than wait and see how the new market plays out, the Cubs are being proactive with the new dates and deadlines.

“We’ve had a lot of dialogue with teams already,” Hoyer said. “I think we always try to check in with every team in advance of the meetings. Obviously, we’ve checked in with agents of free agents that we will target."

Much of this week's dialogue at the GM meetings will lead to the deals that are made and agreed upon at the Dec. 3-6 winter meetings at Nashville.

“I think the face-to-face at the GM meetings, it just gives us a chance to further those discussions that you have already started," Hoyer said. "It’s always easier to deal with somebody in person and have a conversation in person rather than on the phone. But for the most part, we have already started those dialogues and I think this is kind of a continuation of that.”

Expect the Cubs' focus to be on pitching. While third base is a need, the Cubs are still waiting to find out the health status of Ian Stewart before making a decision there. The Cubs would like to add a center fielder, but complicating matters there is finding one on a short deal who would presumably have value at the non-waiver trade deadline.

With pitching, in addition to the two starters the club is looking for, the Cubs also need to add to the bullpen. Carlos Marmol didn’t end up going to the Angels this weekend, but the Cubs still would be open to moving him, and the failed deal did show there is some interest in the right-hander.

“You lay your groundwork, and even things that are close to getting done there [at the meetings] don’t get announced there just because of red tape or medicals,” Hoyer said. “It’s pretty unusual to be able to announce something at the GM meetings. It almost has to be in the works before you get there.”