Cubs likely will have some patchwork to do, chiefly to shore up pitching

Dexter Fowler's brief speech Friday at Grant Park was a reminder of his success tied to the Cubs' World Series title but a chilly message of what lurks ahead for a franchise trying to win multiple titles.

"You know what they say," Fowler, a free agent, said. "You go, we go."

"So I'm going."

After a chuckle, Fowler replied, "No, thank you Cubs fans for coming out. You're the best in the world. Thank you for having me. You're like extended family forever. Go Cubs."

Fowler, 30, likely will get many multi-year offers from teams that could include playoff contenders such as the rival Cardinals and Giants. The Cubs could replace him in center field with astute 22-year-old Albert Almora Jr., but they could be hard-pressed to find someone who can produce a .393 on-base percentage as the switch-hitting Fowler did if they don't re-sign him.

The bullpen also is a concern, especially because Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop — both arbitration eligible — have pitched in a combined 385 games over the last three seasons, and versatile left-hander Travis Wood is a free agent.

Rob Zastryzny earned the faith of manager Joe Maddon during a late-season promotion and could be used more prominently against left-handers. Re-signing submarine style reliever Joe Smith would provide Maddon with a funky look to opposing hitters accustomed to conventional power-armed relievers.

The return of Kyle Schwarber for the World Series fortified their offense. It might not be so bad if Schwarber isn't cleared medically to catch, although that won't be determined until later this winter and teammates have seen Schwarber in a squat without any discomfort.

Versatility was essential to the Cubs' success, from Ben Zobrist moving from second base to left field for the playoffs, and rookie catcher Willson Contreras receiving work in left to preserve his energy for catching in the playoffs.

But there are warning signs the Cubs will continue to address. Maddon stated in September that it eventually will be common for teams to use a six-man rotation for at least parts of a regular season. That strategy worked well for the Cubs when mid-season acquisition Mike Montgomery was inserted for five starts.

It's believed the Cubs will pick up the $12 million option on 15-game winner Jason Hammel, but adding young, major league-ready starting pitching talent is a necessity with John Lackey likely to retire after 2017 and Jake Arrieta becoming a free agent after next season.

That could result in the Cubs perhaps trading some of their surpluses, such as in the outfield where Jorge Soler and Matt Szczur face another logjam with the return of Schwarber. The only encouraging sign for Soler would be if Jason Heyward moves to center field. That would allow Soler to return to right and force Almora and Szczur to come off the bench.

And if Schwarber is projected exclusively as an outfielder, then it would make sense for the Cubs to sign a veteran to bridge the gap between Contreras, 24, and left-handed hitter Miguel Montero, 33, who is entering the final year of his contract.

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