By Dave Wischnowsky –

(CBS) The Chicago Cubs are loaded.

They’re loaded with cash after years of penny-pinching and with all those gaudy outfield ads on the way. They’re loaded with young talent, both on the big league roster or coming soon. And now, they’re both locked and loaded for free agency with new manager Joe Maddon ready to help lure others into the Wrigleyville fold.

But how exactly the Cubs plan to spend their riches this offseason is also a loaded issue – and Theo Epstein and Co. need to be careful with how they handle it.

Earlier this week, news broke that the Cubs reportedly have an interest in Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels, who they claimed on revocable waivers in early August before Philadelphia pulled him back following brief trade talks between the teams.

At 30 years old with a career record of 108-83 to go along with a 3.27 ERA, Hamels is an intriguing option for the Cubs, who are in serious need of front-line starting pitching. But is he their best option too?

As CBSSports.com reported, Hamels is due $96 million over the next four seasons, which is considerably less than what marquee free agent pitchers Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are likely to command this winter.

On the flip side, Scherzer, Lester and fellow free agent James Shields wouldn’t cost the Cubs valuable prospects in addition to dollars if the team were to sign any of them. And it’s that true and full cost for Hamels that Epstein and Jed Hoyer must seriously weigh.

I’ve been saying for the past couple of years that the only reason for the Cubs to have redundant positional prospects – such as three shortstops in Starlin Castro, Javier Baez and Addison Russell – is if they plan to also use the players as trading chips to acquire pitching.

I still believe that. However, besides first baseman Anthony Rizzo, I’m not yet sure that any Cubs player has truly locked down a position on the roster for the long-term future.

We don’t yet know if Baez is a legit big leaguer at second base. Castro may ultimately fit better at third base than he does at shortstop if Russell pans out. Third base prospect Kris Bryant’s best position might actually end up being a corner outfield spot, which may be catching prospect Kyle Schwarber’s future path, too. Albert Almora could be the Cubs’ answer in center field, but right now he’s still just a question. And even outfielder Jorge Soler still has to prove himself over the length of a full season.

As much as we know about the Cubs’ positional players, we still don’t really know much at all. That’s why it’s risky to trade any of them away for Hamels when the Cubs could instead spend dollars to acquire comparable talents in Lester or Scherzer, with Detroit’s David Price also poised to enter the free agent market after next season.

A year from now, the Cubs should have a better idea of of which prospects they can really afford to deal and which they’d be foolish to lose. After all, the last thing the team should want to do is plug a hole in the rotation only to end up opening one on the field in the process.

So my suggestion is for the Cubs to tread very lightly in regards to Hamels. It makes little sense to save dollars while perhaps overspending in prospects, especially when other options appear to be on the free agent table.

Dave Wischnowsky is columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his columns here.