How will the Cubs fare in free agency?

ESPNChicago.com's Jesse Rogers takes a look at the biggest storylines facing the Cubs during the offseason.

Will it be Jon Lester or Russell Martin? Will James Shields end up a Cub? What about those veteran-leader types the club wants to bring in, such as Jonny Gomes?

As with almost any baseball offseason, free agency, which begins after the World Series, tends to be the No. 1 storyline. The Chicago Cubs were fairly quiet on that front last winter, with pitchers Jason Hammel and Jose Veras ending up as the only significant acquisitions. The Cubs flipped Hammel as part of the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland Athletics in July, and an ineffective Veras was designated for assignment in June.

This winter the Cubs say they will be eyeing some potential impact names, especially when it comes to starting pitching. Will they spend the $100 million-plus they had ready for Masahiro Tanaka last year? It's the same money they chose not to spend on Samardzija during this season before trading him.

Three top-level free agent pitchers will be on the market, unless they surprisingly sign with their old teams before free agency begins.

Lester of the Athletics, the Detroit Tigers' Max Scherzer and the Royals' Shields are the best of the class. If 2015 team options on Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds or Yovani Gallardo of the Milwaukee Brewers are declined, then the starting pitching class gets much deeper. But don't hold your breath on either happening.

It actually might be a deeper class if the solid second-half performances of Jake Peavy, Brandon McCarthy and Francisco Liriano, all of whom are set to become free agents, are factored in. Justin Masterson might check a few boxes for the Cubs coming from the American League to the National League, although he struggled with St. Louis after being acquired from Cleveland.

It's not clear how far the Cubs will go in a bidding war for one of the top arms. They've already stated they won't "sell out" for 2015. Whoever they bring in at this point should be counted on to be a playoff pitcher someday soon. The Cubs are on record as saying their intended strategy is no longer to sign and flip players in trades as they have the past three seasons.

As for position players: Martin, the veteran Pittsburgh Pirates catcher who will be 32 this winter, makes sense since he combines an offensive and defensive game. Even if the Cubs have to overpay for a player on the wrong side of 30, Martin could be a nice tutor for Cubs pitchers and a stopgap until 2014 top pick Kyle Schwarber, or another, is ready. More than likely, the Cubs will also bring in a veteran position player with playoff experience, even as a platoon or a backup.