RO­TA­TION RE­BUILD

Free- agent righty with ties to Mad­don, Hickey tops team’s wish list

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - GOR­DON WIT­TEN­MYER Fol­low me on Twit­ter Twit­ter@ @GDubCub. Email: gwit­ten­myer@suntimes.com

ORLANDO, Fla. — The way the Cubs look at filling their pitch­ing needs this win­ter, the bullpen gaps — in­clud­ing the closer — are the least of their wor­ries.

That’s why much of their ef­fort and re­sources are be­ing ear­marked for their pur­suit of at least two start­ing pitch­ers, at least one of whom they can project as a mid­dle­ofthe- ro­ta­tion- or- bet­ter piece in the wake of Jake Ar­ri­eta and John Lackey en­ter­ing free agency.

The key might be for­mer Rays right- han­der Alex Cobb, who looks like the top free- agent fit for the Cubs and who seems to agree, con­sid­er­ing re­cent com­ments he made about the team dur­ing anMLBNet­work Ra­dio in­ter­view.

Those close to Cobb say club­house chem­istry and per­sonal fit, along with the chance to win, are his pri­or­i­ties as he sorts through an early list of suit­ors num­ber­ing close to 10 teams.

The Cubs al­ready have his first big- league man­ager in place and just hired the only big- league pitch­ing coach he has known. Plus, sources say the Cubs have had mul­ti­ple pre­lim­i­nary con­ver­sa­tions with Cobb’s agent, none of them in­volv­ing any kind of con­tract pa­ram­e­ters.

‘‘ I don’t hide the fact that I have the most re­spect for [ Cubs man­ager] Joe Mad­don and what he did for me com­ing up as a player — not so much as a pitcher on the mound, but as a pro­fes­sional ath­lete and pro­fes­sional baseball player,’’ Cobb said dur­ing the ra­dio in­ter­view. ‘‘ It had to deal with the stresses that come me with a big- league life­style. style. There’s no­body bet­ter ter in the game to con­trol trol and deal with h peo­ple as he is.’’ s.’’

Cobb is even tighter ter with new Cubs bs pitch­ing coach ch Jim Hickey.

‘‘ He’s not only a good pitch­ing hing coach but a real close e friend of mine,’’ Cobb b said.

Cobb, who’s al­most 30 months re­moved from m Tommy John surgery, gery, sug­gested he’s look­ing for a five- - year con­tract as he comes off a ca­reer- high 29 starts and 179„ „ in­nings in his is first full sea­son son back. He was 12- 10 with h a 3.66 ERA A for a loslos­ing Rays team.

The Cubs, who o aren’t ex­pected ected to go af­ter r an­tic­i­pated mar­ket- rket- set­ters Ar­ri­eta ieta and Yu Darvish, vish, are look­ing king at al­most ev­ery other op­tion for adding starters who could join Jose Quin­tana, Jon Lester and Kyle Hen­dricks in their ro­ta­tion.

They also have talked with the agent for for­mer Car­di­nals righthander Lance Lynn, a free agent among the next tier of starters, and are look­ing for po­ten­tial trade fits, too.

But gen­eral man­ager Jed Hoyer on Tues­day tem­pered the no­tion the Cubs are as will­ing to part with pieces from their big- league ros­ter as it might seem. He em­pha­sized how­im­por­tant to the Cubs’ suc­cess their depth at sev­eral po­si­tions has been the last three sea­sons.

‘‘ You can’t ig­nore that,’’ Hoyer said.

Ex­actly what starters might be avail­able in trades at what prices is also any­thing but cer­tain, he said.

A suc­cess­ful courtship of Cobb — the 39th- ranked big- league starter in terms ofWAR, ac­cord­ing to Fan­graphs — might clar­ify the means to check­ing off the rest of the Cubs’ win­ter wish list.

‘‘ We’re go­ing to ac­quire pitch­ing,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘ It’s about how.’’

ADAM GLANZMAN/ GETTY IMAGES

Alex Cobb was 12- 10 with a 3.66 ERA for the Rays in 2017.

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