By Bruce Levine

By Bruce Levine–

CHICAGO (CBS) — Like that of many franchises, the Cubs’ offseason moves are in a holding pattern. And like many teams, the Cubs want to get a head start on roster fortification before the Winter Meetings begin in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 10.

In the case of the Cubs, they’re zeroed in on adding starting pitching that they can lock down for three or four years. That’s been the goal of executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer for the last 18 months. They accomplished some of that heavy lifting by trading for left-hander Jose Quintana in July. Now, the focus is on replacing the innings and steady presence of Jake Arrieta and John Lackey, who have hit the open market.

Right-hander Alex Cobb, who has spent his entire big league career with the Rays, has been the primary target of the Cubs in free agency. Cobb, 30, went 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in 29 starts in 2017. He has also received plenty of interest from other clubs, including the Yankees, Orioles, Phillies and Blue Jays.

The Cubs would love to sign Cobb before the Winter Meetings, because doing so would give them even more leverage and comfort in their other dealings. The target for Cobb appears to be in the range of a four-year deal worth around $50 million. A four-year contract for Cobb may be viewed as quite the commitment for a pitcher who has only topped the 170-inning mark once in his career, but the supply-and-demand factor may be on his side, as he’s in the second tier of starting pitchers available after Arrieta, Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani.

Cobb had his biggest workload this past season, when he logged 179 1/3 innings. That came after he missed almost all of the 2016 season following Tommy John surgery in 2015.

The fact that the new Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey had Cobb as a student in Tampa Bay since his debut in 2011 should be a leg up for Chicago in the race for his services. On top of that, Joe Maddon was also Cobb’s manager for four seasons in Tampa.

So when it comes to communication and comfort for Cobb with his coaches, the Cubs check every box.

“I don’t hide the fact I have the utmost respect for Joe Maddon and what he did for me coming up as a player,” Cobb said a few weeks ago on MLB Network radio. “Not so much as a pitcher but as a professional athlete and a professional baseball player. It had to deal with the stresses that come with a big league lifestyle. There’s nobody better in the game to control and deal with people as he is.”

Money usually is the deciding factor in free agents choosing where to play, but the Cubs now also represent an ideal situation for veterans looking to win a championship and play in a great city. When outfielder Jason Heyward signed an eight-year, $184-million deal with the Cubs in December 2015, he turned down a bigger offer from the Cardinals.

“Jim is not only a good pitching coach but a really close friend of mine,” Cobb said of Hickey in the MLB Network interview.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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