Co-written with John Arguello
This is the first in a five part series that Tom and I will do together on the Cubs offseason. We’ll start with an obvious place they need to address: the starting pitching. Last year the Cubs actually had some pretty strong pitching through July, but then Matt Garza got hurt while Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm both got traded. Later, the Cubs shut down Jeff Samardzija. Only one of those guy, Samardzija, is certain to return next year and the only other Cub close to being assured of a rotation spot is LHP Travis Wood.
So how should the Cubs address that need next offseason?
Tom: If I were the GM I’d doing pretty much what Jed Hoyer will do this offseason. That is looking at every possible pitcher that won’t cost you more than a 3 year deal.
Edwin Jackson, Brandon McCarthy, and Ervin Santana (possible non-tender) would be at the top of my wish list. However, I think Jackson will get too much interest from some big market clubs this offseason.
Other names that would interest me are Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Loshe and Philp Hughes (always have had a thing for Hughes).
I would also be eagerly listening to any offers for useful pieces like Darwin Barney or James Russell if it meant getting controllable starting pitching in return.
If you were to add 2 legit starters you could actually have a competitive club entering next season and arm yourself with potential trade ammunition.
A rotation of Garza, Samardzija, Jackson/McCarthy and Santana would give the Cubs the kind of starting depth Hoyer seeks. It would also put guys like Travis Wood, Chris Volstad and some younger candidates a shot to be the fifth starter where they are more likely to thrive.
John: I think a great deal has to do with whether the Cubs decide to trade or keep Matt Garza. If Garza were a free agent, he'd probably be exactly the kind of pitcher the Cubs would want to acquire. He may even have topped their list. If they can trade him and parlay him into a couple of good prospects, however, then I think the Cubs would need to pursue one of the better young free agents such as Edwin Jackson or Anibal Sanchez. For this installment, I'm going to assume the Cubs keep Garza through opening day.
The trick is for the Cubs to acquire a good starting pitcher without vastly overpaying and that's what gives me pause about pursuing some of the top names. Why should they go to the Cubs rather than a contender if the money is equal? That will eventually happen when the Cubs compete, but that isn't going to be in 2013.
I like the idea of pursuing a guy like Francisco Liriano because he's still young (29) and he has regained his old stuff (93 mph that reaches the mid 90s and a nasty slider that is his most effective out pitch), which some felt was top of the rotation quality. He would also help balance out the lefty/righty rotation and give the Cubs a 3rd power pitcher. If not, I like Brandon McCarthy, who I get the feeling will be pursued by several teams, and Ervin Santana.
The second guy is going to be more of an under-the-radar guy and three really stand out to me. In fact, if the Cubs didn't get one of the bigger names, but keep Matt Garza, I'd still be pretty happy if they got 2 of the following 3 guys...
Scott Baker has been hurt all year except for one appearance in the minor leagues, but until last season he has been a steadily improving pitcher. The problem is he blew out his UCL and, while he's expected to be healthy, we don't know how good he's going to be in 2013. When he was healthy in 2011, Baker had a an excellent fastball (90-94 with good movement) and very good command. His xFIP of 3.61 was better than any of the pitchers we've talked about so far. There's some risk, but also some intriguing reward. The injury means he'll probably come cheaper than this talent and past results would otherwise command on the open market. If the Cubs acquire Baker, it would also be with the mindset of flipping him if he's healthy and effective, as he's already 31.
A lower risk option that I like is Scott Feldman. It's not a sexy name and the results (6-11, 5.16 ERA) are not any prettier. However, that's what makes him a cheap, under-the-radar guy. You may get a a young arm (29) with relatively low mileage as compared to the others -- and who may wind up being every bit as effective as guys like Santana and McCarthy. Feldman may have actually pitched better than he did in his 17-8 season in 2009. He was one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball in 2012. His xFIP of 3.87 is lower than any of the names I've mentioned except for Anibal Sanchez.
The last is Brian Matusz. The Cubs showed some interest in Matusz, and a different Orioles pitcher, Chris Tillman, last season. Tillman would have been a shrewd acquisition had they been able to acquire him. He's been a big key for the Orioles down the stretch and will no longer be obtainable. Matusz has played a lesser role and has been less effective, though he has rebounded somewhat from his disastrous 2011 campaign. Like every other pitcher I've mentioned, his peripherals are better than his results, though in Matusz's case it's not by much (4.90 ERA, 4.58 FIP). In this case, it's all about picking up a talented left-handed pitcher who will be just 26 next season and has seen an uptick in his stuff this year. Maybe he breaks out the way Tillman did this season. The Orioles are a win now team and they could be enticed to give him up for a steadier player with a lower ceiling, but who is more likely to help them win next year. Last offseason, the Cubs made a similar trade with Sean Marshall and Travis Wood as the headliners, what about a deal centering around James Russell and Brian Matusz this offseason? He's a risk, but Matusz would have a chance of being in the Cubs rotation for the long term if he takes another step next season.
Maybe a best case scenario for 2013 is this: Samardzija, Garza, Liriano, a healthy Baker, and Wood. That would make the Cubs a tough team to face for NL hitters and possibly give them as many as three good trade chips at the all-star break.
If the Cubs find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to free agent pitchers, it may look more like: Samardzija, Garza, Wood, Feldman, and Matusz. Which to me is still a rotation you can compete with and perhaps pick up a long term piece in Matusz.
Filed under: 2013 Offseason Series