Cubs have new target on their backs as GMs meet to plot for 2017

This dynasty thing the Cubs are hoping to build isn't going to be easy, even if winning their first World Series since 1908 is a good first step.

Only four days after the Cubs' parade, baseball's general managers met at a local hotel Tuesday to begin to try to end their reign at one year.

"I haven't slept well in about two weeks," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said facetiously. "Look, it was great for baseball, an amazing run by Chicago and Cleveland and it was a dynamic World Series. But my responsibility is to the St. Louis Cardinals and to our fan base, and certainly we're going to do whatever we need to be competitive and get better.

"But you look at what (the Cubs have) been able to accomplish and it looks like they have a pretty long run ahead right now. So we have our work cut out."

Of course, everyone was saying the same thing about the Mets at last year's GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., based on a staff with four aces. But when Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz all suffered injuries, the Mets were one-and-done in the National League wild-card game.

Nothing can be taken for granted in baseball.

"It's a cautionary tale for everybody," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. "But it relates back to pitching vs. position players. You have to have pitching, but they have to stay healthy."

The Cubs made most of their big moves last offseason, so tinkering is the buzzword for this winter. They will be looking for pitching, particularly in the bullpen.

But the core of young hitters is so strong the Cubs are in good position even if they make no moves at all.

"One nice thing for us is we have a dynamic, young position playing group that makes the offensive part of the game pretty stable for us going into next year," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "We have Kyle Schwarber back, so we're pretty targeted as far as what we're trying to do this winter.

"I don't think it'll be an extravaganza as it was last year. We don't have to do that. But we are going to be looking at a lot of ways to acquire pitching."

Dexter Fowler is likely as good as gone. Hoyer pointed to Albert Almora Jr., Matt Szczur and Jason Heyward as center field options in 2017, and said "as long as we get someone on base in front of Schwarber, (Kris) Bryant and (Anthony) Rizzo, we'll be fine" at the leadoff spot.

Hoyer wouldn't say how interested the Cubs are in bringing back free-agent closer Aroldis Chapman, who may be seeking the biggest contract of any closer in history.

"No way do we win the World Series without him and what he did," Hoyer said. "We'll have those discussions for sure. I think everyone saw the value of having an elite closer in the playoffs."

If not Chapman, Hoyer said they likely would look at external options rather than returning Hector Rondon to his old role or perhaps giving Carl Edwards Jr. a shot to close.

The talk at the GM meetings is certainly about 2017, but some still were discussing the beating Joe Maddon took on the internet for his Game 7 moves.

"He did?" Nationals president Mike Rizzo said. "Why, because he won the World Series for the first time in 108 years?"

Rizzo's manager, Dusty Baker, also was criticized for his moves in the Nationals' Game 5 loss to the Dodgers in the NL Division Series. Rizzo said it's par for the course.

"I don't think it's (the playoffs)," Rizzo said. "I think, especially now in this social media world we live in, it never has been a tougher job to be a manager in the big leagues. They get scrutinized by every quote-unquote, expert in the world.

"And I always say that managers like Joe Maddon and Dusty Baker, they make a decision that you may not agree with, and I may not agree with, but they have 10 reasons why they made that decision. And they know more about it that you do.

"Tracks records are track records. Joe is a great manager, and one of the best in the game, and he won the World Series and has been a successful manager his whole career."

Did Hoyer and Cubs President Theo Epstein have any issues with Maddon's decision-making?

"It's hard," Hoyer said. "By the time you get to the finish line, both teams are really tired, and obviously that has a huge impact on what happened. No, listen, we won the World Series, and there is a zero percent chance of us winning 200 games over two years and winning the World Series without Joe.

"That (criticism) is the nature of the postseason. The managers take on an almost oversized persona because the camera is on them the entire game and every move they make is going to be dissected. Ultimately, we won the game.

"Listen, I'll be the first person to admit when Chapman came in with a man at first and two outs in the eighth inning, nowhere in my psyche was (thinking) the game was going to be tied two batters later.

"Chapman hadn't given up a home run as a Cub, so I think what happened was in a lot of ways totally anomalous to what happened throughout the season. That's always going to happen. Joe is a world champion manager and he's going to be in the Hall of Fame someday."

Hoyer insisted he was "sort of glad" the Cubs blew the lead in Game 7.

Really?

"I think it was an appropriate way to end a 108-year drought, when you stare into the abyss for 45 minutes and end up coming out the other side and won the game," he said. "It's a more appropriate way than having a nice, 6-3 win. I probably have more gray hair now, and probably have ulcers, and it probably took some minutes off my life."

But worth it. Definitely worth it.

psullivan@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @PWSullivan

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