By Matt Spiegel-

The Cubs embarked on the long haul of a true rebuild, and the image in mind always has been this: Restock that farm system, prepare great prospects to hit the big leagues together en masse, and then pounce on well-chosen free agents to finalize a winning mix.

If you look back at elite teams in the last 20 years, most have that kind of blend. Cheap, ever-improving kids, complemented by established stars brought in at the right time.

A funny thing happened along the way, though. Free-agent classes in off-seasons to come are drying up.

Superstars in every direction have taken early, enormous contract extensions instead of reaching free agency. The next two winters were supposed to feature big-money targets such as David Wright, Joey Votto, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright and Adam Jones.

For the rest of this column from the Daily Herald, please click here.

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