CHICAGO -- The Cubs head into the offseason with significant flexibility in regards to their 2013 payroll, and would like to sign players to contracts similar to what Paul Maholm and David DeJesus agreed to last winter. But they also could fill a spot in the rotation with a familiar name in Ryan Dempster.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, who will gather with the rest of Major League Baseball's GMs next week in Palm Springs, Calif., didn't expect them to sign anyone to a long-term, monster deal.
"We're going to be aggressive in free agency, but we're not going to do things that are going to limit us going forward where we feel we're hindered by a certain contract," Hoyer said on Thursday. "We have some money to spend and we'll be active trying to improve our team for next year.
"I think the contracts we signed last winter are a good model and I think we have the chance to maybe sign more of those this year with a little more money to spend," he said. "They're contracts that have served us well."
Last January, Maholm signed a one-year, $4.25 million contract with a club option of $6.5 million. One year ago, DeJesus signed a two-year deal at $4.25 million each year, with an option year for 2014.
Maholm was dealt to the Braves and Dempster was shipped to the Rangers at the Trade Deadline. Atlanta has picked up Maholm's 2013 option, while Dempster is a free agent, and Hoyer said he's been in contact with the right-hander's representatives about a possible return to the Cubs.
"It's preliminary," Hoyer said of the talks. "A lot of players will end up expressing interest. ... Certainly [Dempster] pitched well here for a long time and people in Chicago respect what he's done here and they should. Obviously, there's mutual respect there."
The Cubs do need at least two starting pitchers and would like to add pitching depth in the organization.
"It's not a problem we're going to fix this offseason," Hoyer said. "We'll do our best and spend our money as wisely this offseason to improve [pitching depth], but organizationally, it's a three-, four-, five-year project."
Which means Hoyer will have to convince free agents to sign with the Cubs -- even though the team is still rebuilding.
This year's free-agent class doesn't have much depth as more teams lock up their young talent. In the past, the Pirates couldn't keep someone like Andrew McCutchen, but baseball's economics have changed, and they were able to give him a six-year contract extension.
"You look at the free-agent list and so many of those guys are in their 30s, and that's the thing we want to be aware of," Hoyer said. "We don't want to end up with a bunch of declining years on our books because we were eager to do something right now. The prime years usually start with a '2.'"
Which is why it's imperative to develop impact players in the organization.
At the General Managers Meetings, Hoyer and Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, will continue their talks with teams and agents. They need to be creative. The Royals, for example, were able to acquire Ervin Santana from the Angels after Los Angeles picked up his option.
The Cubs' only free agent was reliever Shawn Camp and Hoyer said they have had discussions with his representative in hopes of bringing the right-hander back.
Top prospect Baez out with thumb fracture
CHICAGO -- Top prospect Javier Baez has a non-displaced fracture of the tip of his right thumb, but was expected to be ready to go in Spring Training, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said on Thursday.
Baez was playing in the Arizona Fall League when he was injured last Friday, apparently while giving someone a celebratory high-five. Infielder Logan Watkins, who played for Double-A Tennessee, was added to the Mesa Solar Sox roster to take Baez's spot.
"It is unfortunate," Hoyer said. "[Baez] had some really good moments in the fall league and also had some really good learning moments."
Brian Harper, who is a hitting coach for the Solar Sox after serving as the manager at Tennessee, kept Hoyer updated on Baez's progress in the AFL with daily reports, saying the shortstop had made good adjustments.
"That's the real shame of it -- [Baez] played plenty of games this year," Hoyer said. "To be a young player in the fall league and having to make adjustments was really good for him. The injury won't hinder anything going forward."
Matt Garza, who was on the 60-day disabled list with a right elbow injury, was to be examined in mid to late November, Hoyer said. All signs are that Garza was making good progress in his rehab.
"It's a slow healing process and hopefully the scan shows a lot of growth," Hoyer said. "We are optimistic because of how he feels."
The Cubs also are monitoring third baseman Ian Stewart's progress as he recovers from left wrist surgery in June. Stewart is arbitration eligible, and the Cubs don't have many third-base options in the system.
"Honestly, it's a position we're looking at very hard," Hoyer said. "Stewart is one possibility and that will be determined by health. We're looking at a lot of different avenues -- trade, free agency, etcetera, and it's not a position that's all that well represented in free agency this year. It's a challenge we have to figure out."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.