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Cubs and White Sox assess veteran help at general managers meetings

With teams starting to address their needs for next season this week at the annual general managers meetings, the Cubs will concentrate on available seasoned hitters while the rebuilding White Sox will be looking for experience and mentoring for the back end of their rotation and bullpen.

Those priorities are on the agendas of both teams as executives accelerate their plans starting Monday at Carlsbad, Calif.

An earlier-than-anticipated exit from the playoffs allowed Cubs President Theo Epstein and his staff extra time to assess their offensive shortcomings during the second half of last season with the goal of correcting their flaws.

But even with the potential of a lucrative television contract looming, the Cubs face financial obstacles to overcome as they likely would be paying a stiff luxury tax if they land a pricey marquee hitter — such as Bryce Harper or Manny Machado — through free agency.

The Cubs payroll for 2019 now hovers around the $160 million mark for 13 players after they picked up the $20 million option on left-hander Cole Hamels on Friday, so the $206 million luxury tax threshold is on their horizon.

The Cubs could try to address their offensive shortcomings more efficiently through trade, especially after the development of some young hitters — think Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras — experienced different levels of stagnation.

“It has to be more about production than talent going forward,” Epstein said. “That includes our own assessments. Beyond that, it’s trying to understand why we’re not where we should be with some individual players.”

READ MORE: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado or option No. 3? Assessing the Cubs’ free-agent options »

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In addressing hitting needs, however, the Cubs are putting off a longer-term issue of starting pitching. Hamels, who posted a 2.36 ERA in 12 starts after a July 27 trade from the Rangers, should solidify the Cubs rotation now. But they may need to intensify their search for young starting pitching soon.

Jon Lester and Hamels each turn 35 before the 2019 season starts, and Lester’s contract expires after 2020. Yu Darvish, 32, is recovering from a season-ending elbow injury.

Epstein likes the depth at the lower levels of the minors.

“(But) we have a lot of work to do in our farm system to continue building it back up to where it was,” he said last month. “It’s not there now. It’s not close to where it was. And that’s the goal, to get it back there, especially by the time this generation of players is transitioning or potentially transitioning.”

The White Sox, meanwhile, have been careful about not rushing a deep pool of prospects to the majors as they continue their rebuild. They’re likely to seek a veteran starter who can provide innings and assist the younger pitchers, as James Shields did last season.

A veteran presence “factors into” areas such as the back end of the rotation and bullpen, Sox GM Rick Hahn said.

The Sox won’t rule out pursuing a big-ticket player, but only as long as that player fits into the long-term plans and doesn’t stunt the growth of a prized prospect at the same position.

They seem content to stick with versatile Yolmer Sanchez and Matt Davidson at third base but aren’t ruling out switching Yoan Moncada from second base. Moncada’s possible future position will be decided before spring training, Hahn said.

Closer Zach Burdi’s Arizona Fall League season ended prematurely because of arm fatigue, but Hahn said Burdi won’t have any restrictions once spring training starts.

The Sox could explore a trade involving a player on the fringes of being on the 40-man roster, which must be set by Nov. 20.

Last December, Hahn said an executive from another team speculated the Sox would lose four players in the Rule 5 draft but he was pleased when none were selected.

“(This time) it would not shock me if we lost somebody,” Hahn said. “It goes with having a healthy system.”

Twitter @MDGonzales

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