Can budget-strapped Cubs solve need for late-game relief?

One thing the Cubs are shopping for is extra bullpen help for Joe Maddon to call upon. Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports

LAS VEGAS -- If you're still looking for the Chicago Cubs to go swimming in the deep end of the free-agent pool, you may have to wait for another offseason. Once again, the front office more than intimated that it won't be spending the big bucks this winter.

"Nothing has changed in that regard," general manager Jed Hoyer said Monday when asked about the team's budget.

There have been other times when the club has "found" money during the winter, leading to an increase in the spring payroll. But that isn't the case this year, at least not so far, so the team is stuck in the shallow end, unless they pare payroll.

Their attention on Day 1 of the winter meetings -- and likely for the week -- is on their bullpen. The news, announced last week, that closer Brandon Morrow will miss the first month of the season recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his elbow, has underscored the team's need for back-end arms. And the market is loaded with possibilities.

"There are so many relievers in the free-agent market and so many [available] via trade, there is a lot of work to be done by the scouts to line everyone up," Hoyer said. "So, yeah, a big part of it is there is a lot of volume there and you have to work through that volume."

It would be easier to mention the players the Cubs haven't had discussions with as they are scouring the market for the right guy willing to accept the right deal. For example, if they can afford it, lefty Zach Britton is on their radar, though one league source said he was looking for "big money," even coming off a shortened year due to an injury. More than likely, the team will look at cheaper options such as Joakim Soria -- whom they've talked to, and will again this week.

So far, there have been no discussions with some of the other high-end guys such as Jeurys Familia or even one of their own from last year, Justin Wilson. A case could be made the team could do a lot worse than Wilson, especially if they've learned how to use him properly.

Hoyer was asked if the Cubs need a pitcher with closing experience considering Morrow is out for at least the early portion of the season.

"I'm going to answer that kind of boringly and say we're looking for quality relievers," Hoyer responded. "We wouldn't be valuing closing experience over overall talent."

As for the position player base, which failed miserably down the stretch last season, there is bound to be some changes, but the Cubs aren't overhauling their whole lineup. Though the bad taste from last year -- when they lost the division and wild-card game on consecutive days -- is still fresh, the front office is keeping the faith. Perhaps they have no other choice since they don't have the funds to make big changes.

"I know this group of players has another gear that we didn't get to last year," Hoyer said. "We've spent a lot of time talking about how we can get there, so the sooner we can start playing games again the better."

The team had those kinds of discussions as recently as Monday, as coaches along with manager Joe Maddon were in the team's suite at Mandalay Bay for a portion of the day. Hoyer emerged with one nagging feeling: He wants 2019 to begin.

"I've never said this before but I've never wanted a season to start quicker," he declared. "I just feel like the way the season ended left a bitter taste in our mouths. ... This is a year where I can't wait to get back and start competing again because I think that the way it ended -- August and September -- we didn't put our best foot forward."