By Bruce Levine--
(670 The Score) -- With a stagnant free-agent market, the Cubs continue to look at numerous ways to improve their starting pitching with just seven weeks until spring training.
The Cubs have added right-hander Tyler Chatwood on a three-year contract, with vision of him replacing the innings that John Lackey filled. Replacing right-hander Jake Arrieta -- or possibly bringing him back? -- is now the top goal of the Cubs.
On Dec. 18, Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer held a face-to-face meeting with free-agent right-hander Yu Darvish in the Dallas area. Darvish, 31, is the Cubs' top target at this point.
Talks with agent Scott Boras, who represents Arrieta, have been hushed to this point. Epstein indicated during the Winter Meetings earlier in December that he would get to talking with Boras, but nothing regarding those conversations has been made public since then. The Cubs are well aware of what Arrieta is expecting in the way of an offer, sources said. Six years and $160 million was said to be the beginning point in negotiations in November, sources said.
Both Darvish and Arrieta want five-year deals or longer.
At one point it seemed that free-agent right-hander Alex Cobb would sign with the Cubs. That's still a possibility, but his market jumped in both years and money at the Winter Meetings. It once looked like a three-year, $45-million deal would get it done for Cobb. Now, it appears a four-year or five-year deal is expected. Dan Horwits, Cobb's agent, has denied a report that the Cobb camp was asking for $20 million annually.
The Cubs have also continued to explore the trade market for starting pitching. Rays right-hander Chris Archer, Pirates right-hnader Gerrit Cole and Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer are top-of-the-rotation pitchers who are available, per sources. Trading resources off of their 25-man roster would be painful for the Cubs and hurt their depth, but they do have room to maneuver there.
The Cubs have an abundance of outfielders who could be trade chips in the form of Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora. Middle infielders Addison Russell and Javier Baez would bring back a top-flight pitchers if one is moved. Both Russell and Baez are under team control for for four more years. Russell turns 24 in January, while Baez turned 25 earlier this month.
It would be a difficult, multi-layered decision for the Cubs to trade Russell or Baez. Russell missed about six weeks with a foot injury last season, and Baez filled in admirably in his absence. There's no clear depth in the farm system by way of middle infielders, as most of the next wave of Cubs prospects will be young pitchers.
The free-agent market has been extremely slow to develop. Chatwood's three-year, $38-million deal is the biggest for any pitcher this offseason. Carlos Santana's three-year, $60-million deal with the Phillies is the biggest for any player.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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