Cubs to set sights on free-agent starters

DENVER -- Despite projections that have the Chicago Cubs struggling again in 2013, the club is committed to finding starting pitching on the free agent market this offseason.

General manager Jed Hoyer was asked what the club plans to do with the surplus of money it will have when some large contracts come off the books.

“We certainly have to be aggressive with starting pitching over the winter,” Hoyer said. “I think that hardly makes us unique among major league teams. We will certainly have competition to find starting pitching but we certainly will need to bolster our rotation.”

Just what type of pitchers the Cubs target this winter remains to be seen. Pitchers such as Joe Saunders, Hiroki Kuroda, Edwin Jackson and Brandon McCarthy will be free agents. And if some team options aren’t picked up the free-agent list could also include Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, Jake Peavy and a host of others.

Even former Cubs pitchers such as Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano will be in the free-agent pool.

Hoyer pointed out that during the middle of the season starting pitching was a pleasant surprise. Matt Garza, Dempster, Paul Maholm, Jeff Samardzija and even Travis Wood had their positive stretches, with some more productive than others. But of that group, only Wood has pitched since Samardzija’s last outing earlier this month at Pittsburgh.

“Starting pitching we’ve had some good performances, but we need to add depth over the winter,” Hoyer said. “We obviously traded Paul and Ryan and have to replace those guys moving forward.”

The key contact that is coming off the books is the $16-plus million the Cubs were still paying Zambrano to play for the Miami Marlins this season. The Cubs have already shed the $14 million being paid to Dempster, as well as money being spent on players such as Geovany Soto, Maholm and Reed Johnson.

Alfonso Soriano is set to make another $19 million next season with Garza getting a raise from the $9.5 million he made this past season. If Carlos Marmol’s option is picked up that would be another $9.8 million. After that, nobody is on the books for more than the $5.85 million Starlin Castro will make.

The Cubs spent $109 million in player salaries in 2012, down from $134 million in 2011 and the payroll could drop yet again.

“We will have financial flexibility, certainly,” Hoyer said. “We have been diligent to make sure we have flexibility and are diligent moving forward. We’ll obviously be active on the free-agent market. I don’t think there is any question about that. That’s a big part of our research and a big part of our work is to evaluate the guys who are going to be free agents.

“Exactly how much money we spend will be determined in part by the market and where it goes. But we have some money to spend and that is an area we will focus heavily.”

Hoyer was asked if there was a scenario where not all of next year’s savings will be put back into the 2013 roster.

“All the money will go back into the team in some form or another whether it’s things that can help us in the future, whether it’s free agents or keeping money aside for the next free agent class. All the money baseball operations is given will always go back to the club.”