With the return of Chris Bosio for two years, I have earmarked 5 pitchers the Cubs should look into this offseason. I think that the slight tweaks Bosio makes combined with the approach of pounding the ball low in the zone, combined with the Cubs strong infield defense, could make these pitchers a good match for the Cubs.
1. Masahiro Tanaka
I like the idea of adding Masahiro Tanaka and from what I understand, the Cubs are willing to enter the bidding and make a serious push to sign the 24 year old NPB hurler who has put up ridiculous numbers this year. We wrote him up here after I had the opportunity to ask a few scouts about him.
That said, the bidding will be heavy. If they choose, the Dodgers can probably blow away any team on the bid without even flinching. The Yankees and Red Sox are also said to be interested. There are some serious heavyweights in the fray and the Cubs could simply lose out again no matter how hard they pursue him.
So you need alternatives when it comes to starting pitching. I expect it to be an active offseason for the Cubs even if it's not one where we are expecting them to break the bank. The Cubs have said they will up their payroll and spend, but as we've seen in their bid for Anibal Sanchez, they will take a shot if they see an opportunity to improve the team. If they cannot land Tanaka, here are a few options that might interest them...
2. Josh Johnson
Still just 30 years old, Johnson probably has a few good years left in him...if he can stay healthy. He's lost a couple of ticks on his fastball but he still throws plenty hard, averaging 93 mph. Look away from his traditional stats. They're hideous. But one encouraging sign that his stuff is back? Johnson struck out 9.18 batters per 9 IP. That's higher than any season in which he's had 14 or more starts. We know strikeouts don't tell the whole story, but swing and miss stuff is a good place to start. Johnson's unusually high BABIP (.356), HR per flyball ratio (18.5% -- more than 10% higher than career worst), and low strand rate (63% -- again, much lower than his career rate of 74.2%), indicate he could be in for a big rebound. I'd pay him solid money on a 1 or 2 year deal and if he performs, look to extend him.
3. Scott Kazmir
Kazmir has made his way back after a promising career that was curtailed by injury. Kazmir's velocity came all the way back, averaging 92.5 mph, well above average for a lefty and the highest it's been since his age 21 season. He will be 30 on opening day but he looks like a brand new pitcher again. And having a little balance in the rotation never hurts. Kazmir missed bats (9.23 Ks/9 IP) and kept the walks down (2.68 walks/9 IP). He had a little bad luck with BABIP and HRs, so he may even be a bit undervalued. His xFIP of 3.36 was much better than his 4.07 ERA.
4. Dan Haren
Looking back now, this is the trade the Cubs should have made but they backed out because of Haren's medicals. It's hard to believe now that the Cubs would have given up just Marmol and money for the resilient RHP. Haren's numbers aren't all that flashy, 10-14 with a 4.67 ERA, but he keeps the walks way down (1.64 walks/9 IP) while also striking out about 8 batters per 9 IP. Like the previous two pitchers, he had some bad luck with the long ball and if he can return that to a normal, league average rate, we can see Haren knock down up to a full run from that ERA to some in the mid 3.50s range.
5. Roberto Hernandez
No, not that Roberto Hernandez. This one is the former Fausto Carmona, which we can all agree was a much more interesting name. There are some more ghastly results-oriented numbers here as Hernandez went 6-13 with a 4.89 ERA. But as always, those kinds of numbers don't tell the whole story. Carmona is no longer the hard throwing pitcher he once was, but he can still work in the low 90s which he plays up with an effective change-up. Hernandez had all sorts of issues with the long ball (a huge 21% HR/FB rate), but if Bosio can work with him to help pound the lower part of the zone as he has with other Cubs pitchers, we could see a drastic improvement. He can be a solid 4 guy who puts up an ERA in the 3.50-3.75 range if he can keep the ball in the park better.
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