LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — In a way, the Cubs are playing not to lose right now.
That may seem like an odd way to approach the MLB offseason for a team that has made it to three straight National League Championship Series.
But in reality, it's a smart way to gear up for 2018.
Theo Epstein's front office knows they can't count on the remarkable run of health the Cubs pitching staff posted in 2015-16. Last year, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks missed several weeks each with injuries, but the staff was otherwise pretty healthy.
So this winter is all about pitching, pitching, pitching and more pitching. It's a war of attrition and the Cubs are trying not to lose the war.
The Cubs entered the offseason with a clear need for two starting pitchers, a closer and at least one other high-leverage reliever. They've since signed Tyler Chatwood and reached an agreement with Brandon Morrow that should become official Tuesday morning.
Check off one starter and one impact reliever, a guy who could slot in at closer if the Cubs can't bring back Wade Davis.
That pair of moves has helped the Cubs relax a bit at the MLB Winter Meetings this week at Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort, but the hunt for pitching will never be truly over.
"One way to look at the offseason is to look at all the different ways a season can be sunk and build to mitigate those threats," Epstein said. "Our greatest threats right now relate to pitching and not having enough quality pitching, suffering multiple injuries to pitching, not having enough depth."
Fans want to know about a leadoff hitter and that's fair, but run prevention is dominating the Cubs' attention.
They're open to trades from their glut of young, controllable position players for impact pitching, but Epstein and Co. are also still hot on the free agent market, in talks with Alex Cobb and other potential starters.
Even after the Morrow signing becomes official, the Cubs still figure to be involved in what Epstein calls a very deep reliever class.
Morrow doesn't have a long track record of health — he's appeared in more than 20 games in a season just once (2017) since 2012 — but the Cubs are wary of injury issues for every pitcher they acquire. They know full well the injury risks associated with pitching and don't intend to push anybody they sign or trade for.
Joe Maddon is a huge proponent of rest and the Cubs have no interest in running relievers — closers or not — into the ground by having them throw more than three outs on a consistent basis.
Is there any scenario in which the Cubs leave the "Happiest Place on Earth" with a content feeling about their 2018 pitching staff?
"You can't dictate the timetable, so I think an opportunity that really makes sense presents itself and we hesitate, I'd be disappointed," Epstein said. "But I also don't want to make something happen just for the sake of making something happen.
"We'll try to be really thorough, try to be really creative and try to be aggressive when appropriate to continue to round out this pitching staff. It really doesn't matter when you get stuff done — at the winter meetings, after the winter meetings, in January, in spring training — as long as you end up having a pitching staff that is really talented and deep enough to withstand the attrition that always happens during the course of the season.
"We'd love to add another starter one way or another if we could and at least one more reliever."