Offseason begins; Villanueva lone FA

CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva was one of 121 players that became eligible for free agency Thursday as the Major League Baseball offseason officially began. Villanueva is the lone Cubs free agent and isn’t expected back after a two-year stint as a long man/starter.

Beginning Monday at 11 p.m. CST, Villanueva, and every other free agent, can negotiate and sign a contract with any team in the league.

The Cubs have stated that they are searching for starting pitching as well as a veteran outfielder this winter. They’d like to add some leadership in the locker room, preferably someone with playoff experience. Catching is also a possible need position, although the Cubs have said all the right things about Welington Castillo despite some inconsistency in his game.

Technically, the Cubs have only a handful of players under contract for 2015, but everyone else besides Villanueva either is under team control, eligible for arbitration or has a team option for next season. For example, lefty pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada has a $5 million option that the Cubs need to pick-up or decline in the coming days.

The Cubs may pursue several starting pitchers this offseason, but they aren’t necessarily committed to signing a top-of-the-rotation hurler this winter. Jon Lester is a possibility, but a stronger and deeper free agent class next offseason -- when the Cubs are closer to becoming a real contender -- is more likely to fill their needs on the mound. In the outfield, righty veteran Johnny Gomes could be a possibility, as could a player like Mike Morse of the San Francisco Giants. The Cubs will look for someone who can split time with lefty Chris Coghlan in left field. A surprise move could come in center field if the Cubs feel they need a more natural fit there than youngster Arismendy Alcantara.

Think second-tier in the outfield and first- and second-tier on the mound as the Cubs begin looking for players. It remains to be seen if they would open their checkbook for the prize free agent behind the plate, Russell Martin of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates have until Monday night to sign Martin before he becomes available to the other 29 teams.

First things first. The Cubs need to settle their managerial situation, as that could impact their budget for 2015. Paying two managers might reduce the money allotted for free agents.