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GM: Cubs' needs include veteran leadership

Jonny Gomes has the veteran edge the Cubs seek, though he's more of a platoon player. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer gave insight Monday into the team’s offseason needs -- other than pitching -- in saying that veteran leadership will be a priority.

“We need to add some guys to our roster that can help provide that,” Hoyer said before the Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds. “We also have to lengthen out our position-player group.”

As much as Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro have taken over leadership roles, the Cubs still think they need help. It wasn’t that long ago that the two All-Stars were finding their way themselves. In fact, they still are.

“They probably need some guys around them that can teach them the right things to do,” Hoyer said. “I’ve talked to them both individually about that and they want to do it, but I don’t think right now they have enough experience, or I don’t think they’ve been around enough guys that are real clubhouse leaders that have taught them the ropes. I think we need to provide that for those guys.”

So who can the Cubs bring in and where would they play? Hoyer said many starting jobs will be filled by young prospects, some of whom have already made their major league debuts this season.

“That takes up a fair number of positions," Hoyer said, "but we wouldn’t rule out adding a starting player or two that can help there as well."

Going around the infield and outfield as it’s currently constituted, there would seem to be only a couple of openings for a true starter unless the Cubs are going to push a young player aside. Hoyer said it wasn’t a sure thing that the franchise's minor league player of the year, Kris Bryant, would begin the season as the Cubs' starting third baseman, but the team has a good stopgap in Luis Valbuena. Left field is a possibility -- Chris Coghlan has had a nice season there but could be an extra outfielder or platoon player when it’s all said and done.

How does a player with championship experience such as Jonny Gomes sound? That’s the kind of leadership the Cubs are undoubtedly looking for, though he wouldn’t necessarily be an everyday player. But remember, there aren’t a lot of players in their prime who become free agents these days. Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz will be available after a huge year, for example, but he comes with the baggage of having served a PED suspension last season. So a quasi-starter who has winning experience might be the best option.

Looking at the current incumbents, the only other possible positions the Cubs might explore are center field and catcher. Hoyer praised Welington Castillo for his hard work, but, reading between the lines, he left the door open for a replacement behind the plate considering Castillo hasn’t had the best of years.

“Early this season he really didn’t capitalize on the big second half he had last year,” Hoyer said of the 27-year-old. “Everyone’s hope was he would springboard off that big second half and go right into this year. That didn’t happen, but at the same time he’s been better in the second half.”

Again, while saying the Cubs want to see more, there was still plenty of praise for Castillo.

“His name doesn’t get mentioned a lot when we talk about our established young veterans, but I think he can be in that mix as well,” Hoyer said. “He’s shown glimpses of being a front-line guy."

But that doesn’t mean the Cubs can’t do better. Castillo is still behind the eight ball when it comes to calling a game and getting the best out of his pitchers. The Pirates’ Russell Martin is the biggest of the catching names that will become a free agent at year’s end, and he could check all the boxes in terms of offense and defense. A young pitching staff sometimes screams for a veteran catcher. John Baker has helped on the defensive end, but doesn’t have the bat to play -- and lead -- every day.

Center field could be in play as well. Arismendy Alcantara showed great instincts when he was first called up, but he’s had some growing pains and his plate discipline could be a concern; he’s produced a 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the big leagues so far.

That's not to say Alcantara will be pushed aside, but the Cubs might want to bring in a veteran to show him the way. And it remains to be seen if he’s the leadoff hitter the Cubs will employ when they are ready to contend. But expect Alcantara to be given every chance to be the man in center ... at least until prospect Albert Almora is ready. That doesn’t mean Alcantara can’t still move around the diamond again. He’s that versatile.

Some more depth should come from within as the Cubs have developed possible role players in Logan Watkins or Matt Szczur, but they don’t fit the veteran need Hoyer discussed. A dangerous lineup of young talent, mixed with some experience and understanding of how to get on base, is the Cubs' ideal.

“When you do accomplish it, it’s really hard on the pitchers,” Hoyer said of a good Nos. 1 through 8 in the order. “They’re not used to it over here [National League] as much.”

So while keeping an eye on where free-agent-to-be pitcher Jon Lester is going to sign, also watch some veteran position players. The Cubs are bound to grab at least one.