Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, who will gather with the rest of Major League Baseball's GMs next week in Palm Springs, Calif., didn't expect them to sign anyone to a long-term, monster deal.
"We're going to be aggressive in free agency, but we're not going to do things that are going to limit us going forward where we feel we're hindered by a certain contract," Hoyer said on Thursday. "We have some money to spend and we'll be active trying to improve our team for next year.
"I think the contracts we signed last winter are a good model and I think we have the chance to maybe sign more of those this year with a little more money to spend," he said. "They're contracts that have served us well."
Last January, Maholm signed a one-year, $4.25 million contract with a club option of $6.5 million. One year ago, DeJesus signed a two-year deal at $4.25 million each year, with an option year for 2014.
Maholm was dealt to the Braves and Dempster was shipped to the Rangers at the Trade Deadline. Atlanta has picked up Maholm's 2013 option, while Dempster is a free agent, and Hoyer said he's been in contact with the right-hander's representatives about a possible return to the Cubs.
"It's preliminary," Hoyer said of the talks. "A lot of players will end up expressing interest. ... Certainly [Dempster] pitched well here for a long time and people in Chicago respect what he's done here and they should. Obviously, there's mutual respect there."
The Cubs do need at least two starting pitchers and would like to add pitching depth in the organization.
"It's not a problem we're going to fix this offseason," Hoyer said. "We'll do our best and spend our money as wisely this offseason to improve [pitching depth], but organizationally, it's a three-, four-, five-year project."
Which means Hoyer will have to convince free agents to sign with the Cubs -- even though the team is still rebuilding.
This year's free-agent class doesn't have much depth as more teams lock up their young talent. In the past, the Pirates couldn't keep someone like Andrew McCutchen, but baseball's economics have changed, and they were able to give him a six-year contract extension.
"You look at the free-agent list and so many of those guys are in their 30s, and that's the thing we want to be aware of," Hoyer said. "We don't want to end up with a bunch of declining years on our books because we were eager to do something right now. The prime years usually start with a '2.'"
Which is why it's imperative to develop impact players in the organization.
At the General Managers Meetings, Hoyer and Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, will continue their talks with teams and agents. They need to be creative. The Royals, for example, were able to acquire Ervin Santana from the Angels after Los Angeles picked up his option.
The Cubs' only free agent was reliever Shawn Camp and Hoyer said they have had discussions with his representative in hopes of bringing the right-hander back.