The news of Tanaka joining New York is not surprising. Yet it still pains the heart knowing that the Cubs came second. Tanaka has the capability to be the ace of a staff, but there is also a high level of risk. The risk associated with pursuing Tanaka did not seem to faze Theo and Company, and it shouldn't have. The Cubs lost out to New York presumably due to the no-trade clause given in the contract and the ability to win now, the latter being the main reason. The Cubs future is as bright as any team in baseball. In fact, the rest of the major leagues should be afraid of the Cubs in the next four years. With prospects such as Soler, Almora, Baez, Bryant, Olt, Alcantara, Edwards, and on-going, the Cubs are going to win a lot of games and probably many championships. Yes, not all those prospects are guaranteed to pan out, but out of that crop of prospects, many should pan out and be impact players.
The Cubs pursued Tanaka because they have no legitimate ace on their roster or in the farm system. The closest pitcher they have to being an ace is C.J. Edwards who played in High-Class A last year. Samardzija, while a great pitcher, is not an ace in my eyes. I think he is likely one of the best number two starters in baseball. The lack of an extension does not concern me because I think that it will come to fruition in the coming months.
Tanaka was pursued to be the ace, but now that he is off the market, now what?
As I said earlier, Edwards is the closest prospect to being an ace. Hendricks, while very good, is a 4 or 5 at best. Vizcaino (remember him? From the Maholm trade) has electric stuff and was viewed as a future ace in Atlanta hasn't pitched in two years. While Hoyer says his stuff is electric, he projects as a bullpen piece or a backend of the rotation pitcher. It is unreasonable to expect that he can be the ace of the staff. Arrieta, who was the opening-day starter in Baltimore only two years ago is a darkhorse to be an ace because he has the ability. The question is, can be harness it? He will open the season as the probable number four starter and that may be the best spot for him in the rotation moving forward. While he can be an ace, it may not happen. There are other pitching prospects in the Cubs system, but none are a clearcut ace. They have pieces that can project to be dynamic 3-4-5 starters, but not a pitcher that one can point to and call the ace of the staff.
Where will this ace come from?
The good news is that the Cubs aren't winning anytime soon. I do not expect serious contention for a world series until at least 2017. The top prospects will all be up sometime in 2015 and I think it is unreasonable to think that in 2016 they will be ready to win. 2017 is the earliest. That gives the Cubs three offseasons and three more drafts to find this ace. Free agency is an avenue, but that means big money (not the biggest issue) and long term (which is a huge issue). Potentially the ace can come through the draft. Remember the Cubs have the number four pick in the draft and are projected (as of 1/17) Tyler Kolek, a high school RHP. Maybe he develops in time for the Cubs to contend.
In the short-term, expect the Cubs to sign a free agent pitcher as a number 5 starter, but don't expect a big free agent signing by the Cubs anytime soon. They have the impact position players and they will focus on pitching from here on out to find that ace. Tanaka can opt out in four years. He will be 29, maybe he will come to Chicago then. But for now, hate to say it, but we must endure another lost season.
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