The Cubs just lost out on Tanaka and what I've heard is that it was all about location and not money. It's quite possible the Cubs outbid the Yankees on this one but that would be speculation on my part. We can take solace in that the Cubs can and will spend when needed, though that is not something that I have ever really doubted.
Now that the initial sting has worn off a bit, we can move on and take a look at what the Cubs options in my personal order of preference..
1. Bronson Arroyo
There are some pitchers who could fill in for the short term, the best of which is Bronson Arroyo, a player with whom this front office still has a good relationship. Arroyo has been rumored to be talking with the Twins and Mets among other teams, so it's clear he isn't necessarily looking for a team widely expected to win now.
This idea is slowly growing on me and I even surprised myself that I made this my preference. Now that the Cubs made a run and were willing to pony up a little extra, maybe they'll be willing to make the slightly bigger investment to get Arroyo over the other second tier choices.
Arroyo could provide some veteran leadership and hs the added benefit of giving the Cubs a proven veteran with a history of recent success. Arroyo could have a good influence on Jeff Samardzija, who wouldn't mind seeing a guy who will throw a ton of strikes, get you double digit wins and a sub 4.00 ERA joining him on the staff. On the Cubs, that's probably a #2 starter. Moreover, Arroyo knows how to pitch and could help Samardzija further develop those skills.
The downside is that it may take a 3 year deal to land Arroyo, but it may be worth it all things considered and they can always trade him if it doesn't work out. I'd definitely try to get him on 2 years.
2. Paul Maholm
Maholm can give you many of the same qualities that Arroyo can, albeit to a lesser degree. He does have the advantage of knowing the players and instantly fitting into the clubhouse. Adding a second lefty doesn't hurt either.
3. Jason Hammel
Hammel would give the Cubs a capable bottom of the rotation starter. Coming off a poor season, he could be the least expensive of the alternatives. He also won't get in the way of any of the young pitchers should they blossom this season. Hammel has pitched a few games out of the bullpen recently and could be a swingman and rotation depth if needed.
I think Hammel would be the best value signing in this group.
4. Stand pat and fill the 4th and 5th spots in house
- Jake Arrieta is pretty much locked into one of the last spots. He's out of options and the Cubs want to give him a shot as a starter first. He has top of the rotation stuff but lacks the consistency and command to fully take advantage of it.
- Without Tanaka, Justin Grimm and Alberto Cabrera could get long looks this spring. Cabrera had success as a starter at AA Tennessee before running out of gas late in the season.
- Justin Grimm has been mentioned as a potential closer candidate down the road but the Cubs haven't ruled out the possibility of him starting. The Cubs current staff really liked him out of high school but could not sign him -- and we know how much they value massive amounts of information when it comes to evaluating their players.
- Chris Rusin would give the Cubs a second lefty in the rotation and has shown himself capable when he hits his spots. But as a finesse type pitcher, his command isn't sharp enough on on a consistent basis to be more than a fringe starter at this point. Could end up in the pen.
- Carlos Villanueva is the fallback option. You know what you are getting with Villanueva, which is a solid 5th starter who can pitch very well for stretches.
5. Scott Baker
Late addition as I inadvertantly left him off the list. Thanks to those who reminded me. Baker would be a nice fit and he already knows his way around. He was impressive late in the season but questions remain as to health and how much he has left in terms of stuff.
6. Take a step back and trade Jeff Samardzija for young MLB ready pitching
I had a hard time deciding where to rank this one on my list. I don't like the idea of taking another step back and would only do this if I could get an MLB ready arm such as Marcus Stroman in return. This would have to be a deal similar to the one the A's made with Gio Gonzalez or Trevor Cahill. If they can somehow get themselves an MLB ready fill-in and a near MLB ready mid-rotation arm to headline a trade (i.e. Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman), then I would be okay with a Samardzija deal. But I find that sort of package unlikely right now.
It's more realistic that they'd get a Nolin-like fill in along with lower level lottery tickets and if that's the case, I hold on to Samardzija and see how the team progresses by the trade deadline.
7. Suk-Min Yoon
Yoon is in his prime at age 27 but he's more of a bottom of the rotation guy in terms of both stuff and stamina. There are also some minor injury concerns. He could also end up in the bullpen as a 7th inning type arm. His age makes him a possible fit in some role for the next few years.
8. Go after one of the other big name free agent pitchers left in the market (Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza)
Personally, I don't like this idea. All of the bigger names are tied to draft pick compensation except for Matt Garza. And Garza has some questionable meds, not to mention there doesn't seem to be mutual interest in a return at this point. All are in their 30s and are more suitable for a short term buy. It made sense to bid big on Tanaka because he would have been in his prime in 2 years. All of these pitchers will be on the wrong side of the bell curve by the time the Cubs kids are ready.
These aren't all mutually exclusive options. In the end, I prefer a combination of one of the first 3 choices and option #4. A rotation of Jeff Samardzija, Bronson Arroyo, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, and Jake Arrieta would be pretty solid to me. And if that doesn't work out, then next year's FA class could be a good one for starting pitchers.
What would you do from here?