Cubs: Free agents see past losses

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- While last season's 101 losses certainly aren't a selling point, they won't necessarily keep free agents from deciding to join the Chicago Cubs, according to club president Theo Epstein.

"We've been pleased with the expressed desire by players to come play in Chicago," Epstein said at the end of Day 1 of baseball's winter meetings. "Dale (Sveum) is making a name for himself as a manager players want to play for. Free agents recognize we had a good clubhouse. Generally free agents believe in the direction we're going.

"Elite baseball players are real competitive. They like the thought of being part of the solution and being a member of the team that wins a World Series here. I've had a number of players tell me that directly."

But don't count on slugger Josh Hamilton or top free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke to be wearing a Cubs uniform anytime soon. The rebuilding plan is still in its infant stages.

"We're trying to get the organization healthier and healthier with each passing day," Epstein said. "That's our job. We're all competitive and we can all be impatient at times, but we have an understanding what we're trying to get to. So we can't do anything that gets in the way."

Which means the Cubs are likely to stick to smaller moves during these winter meetings. They need outfield help, a third baseman and both starting and relief pitching.

"We've had a productive day (Monday) so far, but not necessarily closing in on any deal," Epstein said. "We look forward to trying to get something done while we're here."

Epstein didn't close the door on non-tendered free agent Ian Stewart, indicating that there aren't many third baseman available.

"It's a relatively thin third base market," he said. "We're going to have to be creative. Rely on internal options if we can. Luis Valbuena played a lot there last year. There are couple players in free agency and possible trade (options) as well to fill the position."

An announced deal with Japanese right-handed reliever Kyuji Fujikawa is imminent, according to sources, and Epstein didn't reject that notion. He also wouldn't commit to it being the end of Carlos Marmol's career as a Cub, although a deal which fell apart earlier in the offseason almost had him going to the Los Angeles Angels.

"Even if we add a set-up type reliever or someone with closer experience, Carlos is our closer," Epstein said. "He had a really good second half of the season. We're just trying to deepen the 'pen and turn it from a weakness to a strength, if possible."

As for other additions, Epstein said the Cubs could look at other non-tendered players who became free agents Friday.

"There's a good chance that we do," he said. "There's a couple of interesting names."