5 ways the Cubs can get even better
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Theo Epstein went a little crazy after surviving one of the greatest Game 7s in history, going so far as to literally eat goat in the Wrigley Field bleachers.

But after the well-deserved celebration, Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer quickly moved on to planning for 2017. The day after the World Series parade, Epstein made a trek to Jason Hammel‘s house to discuss the club’s contract option on the 15-game winner — the Cubs allowed Hammel to become a free agent rather than exercising it and trading him — and then Epstein was off to the General Managers Meetings in Arizona. The effort now is to find ways to become baseball’s first dynasty since the late-’90s Yankees.

Epstein, the architect of two curse-breaking World Series titles since 2004, doesn’t seem to need much unsolicited advice, but here are five ways the Cubs can get even better this offseason:

1. Move quickly to re-sign Dexter Fowler
The Cubs have other options in center field, but retaining Fowler is the best of them. His leadoff skills are a perfect fit for the lineup and, as proven by a career-high .393 OBP in 2016, Wrigley Field has been a good fit for him.

Fowler's three-hit Game 7

Epstein can let Fowler walk if Fowler is joining Ian Desmond in chasing maximum value on the free-agent market, but the outfielder would have a hard time walking away from a solid offer to stay. Because other moves are predicated on this one, the Cubs can’t let this situation percolate for long.

If Fowler stays — and a three- or four-year deal should get it done — the Cubs can shop Albert Almora Jr. in a package in their ongoing quest to add a controllable young starting pitcher. If Fowler leaves, the Cubs must decide between handing Almora the center-field job or moving Jason Heyward from right field to open a spot in right for Ben Zobrist. The Cubs will get a Draft pick as compensation for Fowler signing elsewhere, making it a little easier to …

2. Sign Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon to replace Aroldis Chapman as closer
Hoyer has publicly downplayed the likelihood of the Cubs signing a big-ticket free agent, saying they’d rather develop their own closer. Sure they would. But they don’t want to be going out next July trying to make another costly trade for a rental like Chapman.

Cubs have closer options

Signing Jansen away from the Dodgers is the first option. But Melancon could be a nice piece, too, and he wouldn’t cost a Draft pick since he was ineligible for the qualifying offer after getting traded midseason in 2016. Melancon would benefit more from the Cubs’ best-in-baseball defense than strikeout pitchers like Chapman and Jansen. With the questions about Fowler and a closer settled, Epstein could …

3. Go big-arm hunting with their plethora of young hitters
Yes, you’ve heard this before. But now is the time to put together a package of young talent headed by Jorge Soler and Almora to land a proven starter — such as Chris Archer, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Carrasco — who lessens the anxiety about Jake Arrieta being eligible for free agency after next season.

Kyle Schwarber is rejoining the team as a left fielder, which means the Cubs can afford to deal from the core that won 103 games. Javier Baez would be a huge upgrade to any multi-player package for pitching, perhaps putting the Cubs in play for Sale, a five-time All-Star at age 27, but with manager Joe Maddon dropping Roberto Alomar comps on Baez, it’d be super aggressive to deal him.

Baez makes great turn for DP

There’s nothing wrong with hanging on to everybody, including Baez, but the Cubs had the oldest starting rotation in the Majors in 2016 and their pitching depth is one notable weakness. Speaking of pitching depth, Travis Wood is a free agent, so …

4. Take a long look at Chicago resident Sean Doolittle
Shoulder woes have limited Doolittle to 52 2/3 innings over the past two seasons, so there is some risk here. But Doolittle’s fastball averaged 97 mph in June and he was back pounding the strike zone in the 95-96 range in August and September after a stint on the disabled list. That’s a good sign. If he’s healthy, work out a trade with the A’s to take over his contract, which runs through 2018, with team options for ’19 and ’20. If healthy, Doolittle would fill a need on the left-handed side in the bullpen and has the kind of goofy personality that works well on a Maddon club.

If Doolittle’s shoulder looks bad, move on to other trade options, headed by the Tigers’ Justin Wilson, Padres’ Brad Hand and Royals’ Brian Flynn. But most important …

5. KSH. That is, keep Schwarber healthy.
The Cubs won eight games more than any other Major League team despite Schwarber being lost for the regular season on April 7. Think about having his otherworldly eye and short, quick stroke working alongside Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo for a full season, with the switch-hitting Zobrist in front of or behind that trio. This should be a nightmare for opposing pitchers.

Schwarber's three-hit Game 7

Adjusted for park effects and the absence of a DH, the Cubs had the most productive group of run producers in the Majors in 2016. A full season of catcher Willson Contreras, along with Schwarber’s return, suggests that will happen again in 2017.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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