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Cubs’ rebuilding process begins when GMs meet in Milwaukee

The new front office might not figure thCarlos Zambrano who walked out Cubs August is good fit. | Dave Tulis~AP

The new front office might not figure that Carlos Zambrano, who walked out on the Cubs in August, is a good fit. | Dave Tulis~AP

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Updated: December 15, 2011 10:07AM

The efforts to rebuild the Cubs’ roster by the team’s new front office might involve as much subtraction as addition in the early stages of a promised organizational overhaul.

For all the humor and upbeat talk recently about the value and the handling of Carlos Zambrano, the former staff ace doesn’t fit the Cubs’ vision of culture change under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer any better than he fit the 2011 clubhouse after quitting on the team in August.

Alfonso Soriano might be impossible to move with $54 million still coming over three years, but look for the new front-office leaders to find out for sure in the coming weeks.

And as the general managers meetings this week in Milwaukee start the temperature rising on the winter’s hot-stove league, don’t be surprised to see names of veterans such as Marlon Byrd or even Carlos Marmol hit the rumor mill (now that the Phillies and Jonathan Papelbon have set a $50 million bar for closers).

“We’ve had a number of conversations about free agents and trade targets,’’ said Hoyer, the Cubs’ new general manager. “For both Theo and me, it’s exciting to go up to Milwaukee and start having face-to-face conversations with different teams about our guys.’’

Even as Hoyer and team president Epstein have focused on a managerial hiring process that could conclude by the end of the week, they’ve spent time with their staff on a player personnel plan that appears to focus on pitching and fielding — and looks well beyond the 2012 season.

“There’s no secret we need to get some depth in the rotation,’’ Hoyer said. “We need to find ways to improve the defense, and we need to probably find a little more athleticism on the bases.’’

For the first time in four years, the front office has payroll flexibility, with more than $40 million in expiring contracts offsetting an expected budget reduction.

That’s not expected to lead to a splurge in free agency, even among pitchers. But Hoyer, who spent the last two seasons as the GM in small-market San Diego, told reporters recently, “In a market like this, we’re going to look at everyone. That’s the nature of a big market.’’

During the same conversation, he also said, “Relying on external solutions to build a winning baseball team is a bad idea and something we need to get past.’’

And during a conference call with season-ticket holders last week, Epstein said: “Its important to not get too pigeon-holed with free agency as the only way to improve your club. We’ll be very active in the free-agent process, scouting the landscape [and exploring] every position.

“But it’s important to note we can also improve the club defensively. If Aramis [Ramirez] leaves and you lose a bat, it might open the door to improve defensively. We’re looking for complete players as much as possible.’’

That said, the Cubs are reportedly one of the teams planning to hold a private workout for touted Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes, 26. And the Cubs have been doing background work on potential Japanese free agent Yu Darvish, according to a team source.

But whatever direction they go, the road to next year’s Cubs fortunes goes through Milwaukee this week.

Contributing: Toni Ginnetti

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