Projecting the Cubs 2012 Pitching Staff

The Cubs have spent much of the offseason collecting arms.  They have added 6 arms and have lost 3 in Carlos Zambrano, Andrew Cashner, and Sean Marshall.  It's going to be a different looking staff, one that relies on better control and better defense.  So who's going to make up that staff?  Here are my picks...

Starting Rotation

1. Matt Garza - He's obviously a lock to be the ace on this team if he's still here.  It's looking more and more like he'll at least open the season with the Cubs.

2. Ryan Dempster - Dempster had a bad season in 2011, one in which his fastball just wasn't nearly as effective.  Encouragingly most of his peripherals remained constant from his previous years.  His FIP, xFIP, GB rates, walk rates, and strikeout rates were all remarkably similar to his previous seasons.  The big change was a .324 BABIP.  So perhaps some of Dempter's poor year had something to do with a little bad luck.

3. Paul Maholm - Ideally, he's probably more of a 4th starter but the Cubs staff basically begins with a #2 guy and then goes down from there.  Maholm is a veteran who can give the team some good innings from the left-side, but we shouldn't expect him to be a front end starter.

4. Chris Volstad - Quite a few baseball people like Volstad as a back end starter.  He's no longer that up and coming prospect, but he has a chance to be a solid, cost-controlled starter for the next few years.  His xFIP number would actually rank second to Garza on this staff.

5. Travis Wood - Wood is another acquisition that I've heard good things about - again, not as an ace but as a good 4th starter type.  He would give the Cubs a second lefty and is a good candidate to rebound after being overused a bit by Dusty Baker in his rookie year.  If he can return to his 2010 numbers, he'll have a place on this staff.


Carlos Marmol - The enigmatic reliever returns for another season after a disastrous end to 2011. Marmol really struggled with his command and his slider and he'll likely be one of new pitching coach Chris Bosio's main projects.  If he can get him to rebound to his dominant self, however, Marmol may wind up being trade bait at the deadline.

Set-up/late inning relievers

Kerry Wood - The fan favorite returns and while there may be a little sentiment in this signing, he's still a reliable veteran reliever that the Cubs will lean on heavily this season.  He'll set-up Marmol and will be first in line to close if the Cubs make a trade.

Jeff Smardzija - The "Shark" had something of a breakthrough season and gradually earned ex-Cub manager Mike Quade's trust.  He was used more frequently in high leverage situations than he had in the past and I expect that to continue in 2012.  There's an outside chance that he'll crack the rotation, but I consider that an extreme longshot at this point.

James Russell - Russell will likely take over the late inning left-handed role left open because of the Marshall trade.  After a disastrous stint as a starter, Russell settled in well last season in relief.  The Cubs will depend on Russell to continue his success in a more important role this season as the top lefty out of the pen.

Middle Relief

Randy Wells - Wells has a shot at the rotation and will compete with Chris Volstad and Travis Wood for the last two spots.  If he doesn't make the starting staff, he could fit as a long reliever/swingman.  There's also a chance the Cubs could deal him.

Jeff Beliveau - Another guy who's in competition for a spot, Beliveau will compete with fellow lefties Scott Maine and John Gaub as the 3rd lefty out of the pen.  Epstein has mentioned Beliveau specifically as someone he likes, so that and his superior control give him the edge.

Marcos Mateo - He's out of options so all things equal, he'll get the nod unless he is dealt or offered up as compensation.  Mateo had some surprisingly good peripherals to go with his above average stuff.  His 3.29 FIP and 9.78 K rate have surely caught the Cubs new brass' attention.  They certainly seem to want to keep him as they have preserved his spot on the 40 man roster in spite of the recent additions

 Others with a shot

Chris Carpenter - At times Carpenter can throw 100 mph, at other times he has a sharp-breaking slider, and he occasionally has good command.  If he can do all three at once, he'll make the team.  But that's a big if.

Lendy Castillo - The Rule 5 Pick either has to go north with the Cubs or be offered back to the Phillies.  His stuff is as good as anyone on this list, but he's raw and hasn't pitched above A ball.

Rafael Dolis - He's like an enhanced version of Carpenter in that he is the same kind of pitcher, only he's more consistent.  His slider is also better.  He has yet to pitch AAA, so he'll really have to convince somebody.

John Gaub - Good fastball but his best pitch may be his slider.  Unfortunately he doesn't always know where it's going.

Scott Maine - Hard throwing lefty  with an impressive 12.6 K rate at Iowa last season. Command and control will be the issue.  Both he and Gaub will challenge Beliveau for a spot.


Filed under: Cubs, Pitching, Roster decisions


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  • Have you seen the puff piece on Josh Vitters at the Cubs website? It's borderline intellectually dishonest. Witness this statement:
    "What's held Vitters back are his youth and injuries, including a fractured finger on his left hand in 2010."
    And his inability to take a pitch has nothing to do with it? How about his mediocre power numbers or his sub average defense at 3B? Ugh.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    I was very disappointed. The truth is that if he doesn't show power, discipline, or defense, he's not going to have place on the new Cubs. Those things HAVE to improve. Can't give him a pass because of a fracture he had 2 years ago. Awful.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Carrie Muskat with a fluff piece. What are the chances?

  • John, why am I excited about this staff? I read the reviews and it's pretty bland after Garza . I drink more Cub Kool-Aid than most and at times I wish I could quench that thirst and save the heartache. But, for some reason I'm generally excited to watch a few of these youngs guys pitch, most notably Volstad and Wood. I just hope i'm still excited half way through the season.

    Do you think the reason that the "Shark" doesn't get a shot at the rotation is because of the lack of a 3rd quality pitch?

    I think it's possible Crusty Baker did us a favor with Wood and over working him in his rookie year. You have to think after his rookie season he wouldn't have been available for Marshall. After some sub par numbers in year 2 I think it improved our chances of landing him. I really hope we can catch lightening in a bottle with him.

  • In reply to Bilbo Baggins:

    Haha! I don't know, but there's something likeable about this staff. I think it's that we're going to see a lot more strikes, less nibbling...making the guys put the ball in play. Defense has to do their part, though.

    Shark has 3 solid pitches. It's his command that will hold him back. It's borderline for a reliever and it needs to get better if he's going to start. I don't think the new FO knows a lot about him, so maybe he can turn some heads. Stuff-wise and control-wise, I think he can be like Dempster but I don't know if he has the "pitchability" to be a starter. Cubs are going to give him a chance to prove he does, but he's really going to have to show he knows what he's doing out there.

    I agree on Wood and you can say the same for Volstad. If they would have had great years, no way would they have been available.

  • Actually, this pitching staff doesn't look horrible. But when you post the projected starting posions players and subs...,thats what scares me...,lots.

  • In reply to rakmessiah:

    I think the pitching and defense will be the strengths -- if that's what you want to call them. But as I mentioned somewhere else, in a perfect world, Byrd and DeJesus are 4th OFers and Barney is a UT infielder -- then you have to hope that guys like Stewart and Soto bounce back and LaHair shows he's more than a AAA star. Lots of fingers to cross with that lineup.

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    agreed. looking at this list, I think the starting pitching will be much improved over last season. A lot of that has to do with what we got out of our 4th and 5th starters last year (not much - and what, a 6.50 ERA?). And those guys at the bottom are young with some upside, not 35+ year old has beens like last year.

  • In reply to brober34:

    I think it'll be better. Not great, but better. And I think the big hope is that you find a keeper or two in the bunch.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    for me the goal is for them to all pitch well, hopefully garza and dempster pitch themselves into trades to contenders. maholm could do this as well (to a lesser extent of course) but id be happy if he duplicates last year. and then for wells, wood, volstad or whoever ends up at the back of the rotation, i just want them to be consistent and develop as the year goes on.

    although i also want them to be a bottom 5 team in the league if we arent competing for the playoffs (which im not expecting us to) so we can get more high draft picks.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    You do want them all to pitch well. No question. Ultimately you want to build this staff for 2-3 years down the road, and if Wood and/or Volstad look like guys that can help you over the next few years, then that's a step in the right direction. If the vets do well and you get good cost-controlled parts in a trade, then that helps that cause as well.

  • What are some of the solid up and coming prospects for SP within the Cub's farm team? Anyone worth looking forward to?

  • In reply to Nate:

    Trey McNutt is probably the guy with the biggest upside. Chris Rusin is kind of a finesse lefty who's ready for the bigs, but he's more of a 5th starter guy. Another guy in AAA is Nick Struck, decent stuff but not going to blow you away either. McNutt's the guy who has a chance to be a top starter if everything works out for him.

  • I think the interesting battle might be between Wells and Volstad. Volstad sometimes brings out a pitching arsenal that includes an off-speed fastball. A 2-seem Meatball that moves into righties bats and a 4 seem meatball that hovers above the plate with a neon "Smack me" sign, and he's developed a splitter that doesn't split and thus they're calling it a "Shitter". I guess I'm saying he can be awfully hittable. So if Wells decides to get his act together and actually look like the useful pitcher people thought he could be, then do they hide Volstad in the pen? T-wood and Maholm look fairly solid.

    Carpenter,Gaub,Dolis, Shark, And Kerry- Lot of smoke in that Bullpen.That gets me excited.

    It just kills me that people hope Garza pitches we can trade the hopes that whoever we acquire may some day possibly be as good as Garza........ Things that make you shake your head for $400 Alex....

  • In reply to felzz:

    I think Wells is right there in the mix, but his stuff and upside is actually inferior to Volstad's. Both finished the year very strong, but I think if there is a tie, it goes to Volstad because he's more part of the long term plan. If Volstad falters, you go right to Wells. Just my opinion, though.

    The arms are great, lots of fastballs in the 95-100 mph range. I'd even add Maine, Castillo and Mateo as guys who can hit the mid 90s. It's just a matter of them finding the strike zone consistently.

    I agree with Garza. I'm perfectly fine with keeping him around to ace your staff. Now if Detroit comes around and says here's Turner, Castellanos, and Oliver (or Smyly)...well, that might be a little too hard to pass up. But you definitely have to get blown away to deal Garza at this point.

  • Off topic, but I read on the Trib web site that the Cubs and Bosox have submitted "written proposals - thought to include names of players" to Selig wrt the compensation issue. Does anyone out there have more details?

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    I don't, but I imagine they're going to try to keep those proposals as private as they can.

  • I like the piece John. So, here's what I believe is left this offseason. Trade Soriano and cash for a low-level prospect (Yankees or Indians?). Trade Byrd for a low-level prospect (Nationals?) Attempt to sign Cespedes, Concepcion, and Soler. Hopefully get two of three, be ecstatic for all three but it would also be ok to get at least one. Attempt to trade Marmol, Soto and Wells between now and the start of the season otherwise, if we're not in contention by the trade deadline, make them available when at that point they've hopefully had decent years. Finally, either trade Garza or sign him to a Cub friendly extension before the season starts. If you sign him to an extension and we're out of contention by the trade deadline, make him available. So what do you think?

  • In reply to apalifer:

    I like that plan. It's rational and it's certainly doable.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The problem I see with any trades is money. Byrd is only owed 6.5 million, but it seems like there are some decent bats still out there taking minor league deals. I think trading Soriano is a pipe dream, unless we eat more than 45 million bucks, which seems like a poor decision in my book.

    Love the idea of going after the Cuban trio, and hopefully getting 2.

    I also would make Wells, Volstad, and Maholm available at any time this season to a team needing a SP. They are short term solutions.

  • In reply to bwenger:

    Agreed. The market is a bit saturated right now so it may not happen until spring training or, more likely, midseason.

    As for the pitching, I agree on Maholm and Wells, but Volstad is a possible keeper as an innings eater at the back of your rotation.

  • Remember they are building towards contending in 3 years. By then they'll have signed a FA #1 type, still have Garza in his prime, and hopefully have a young kid step up. Wood, Mahlohm, Volstad, Shark...allthey need is to keep one around for long term and trade the rest. They have enough to survive an injury or two, and have someonejust not pan out. I like strategy

  • In reply to jimmy mac1:

    I think if you get a long term starter or two out of that group you have to be thrilled. If I have to bet on one guy, it'd be Wood but count me in as someone who's interested in what Shark can do as a starter. I've heard some good things on Volstad too. Those 3 guys and their youth make them the favorites to stick long term.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I couldn't agree more. The Cubs do have a few arms on the current roster that could stick and prove to be long term pieces. I would also much rather see what Shark can do over someone like, Wells or Coleman.
    While the names that follow Garza in the rotation this year may not as impressive as we would have hoped, or as they might be 3 or 4 years from now, the high up side of some and the improved defense should give reason for some cautious optimism. We may not win the division, but I think it will be a better fundamental and more entertaining team than was put on the field last season.

  • In reply to supercapo:

    We kind of know what we have in Wells and Coleman -- 5th starter/long reliever types.

    Looking forward to more solid play -- even it means the same record as last year! That team was one of the hardest to watch in recent memory. Only reasons to really catch a game were Garza and Castro.

  • John
    I keep reading that Derek Lee is still unsigned.

    I know this is a rebuilding year, but are there any thoughts to resigning Derek for a year? He would provide late inning defense, spell LeHair (sp?) against tough left-handers, give us some right-handed pop off the bench, and add a sane veteran presence to the clubhouse.

    Or do you think Derek's wrist has degenerated to the point that his career is now essentially over?


  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Possible, but I hear Derrek wants decent money. I like him as a part-time player but signing him would mean having 3 first basemen-only on the 40 man roster -- something teams would generally like to avoid because it doesn't give them the flexibility they need.

  • Our rotation should be much improved over last season. If my math is correct, if you remove Garza, our SP had a 1.52 WHIP as a group. If Dempster bounces back, and the above guys are solid, we should have a nice rotation with depth.

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