The key to that title is the word pitchers...as in plural.
Joe Maddon: "You can never have too much pitching."
— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) November 18, 2015
It may be an old baseball cliche -- not something you often hear from the Cubs colorful skipper, but it fits. It is also worth noting that he is on the same page as this front office, who have often said they want to build an "8 or 9 man rotation". In other words, the Cubs want depth -- not just in their rotation, but in the 40 man roster as well.
That means having MLB ready pitching at the upper levels But it isn't good enough to just have depth for the sake of depth. The Cubs want pitchers who can make an impact when their turn comes. Pierce Johnson showed that capability yesterday with good stuff once again: 91-93 mph FB, t94 and a power CB that he can either bury under a hitters hand or drop it on the outside corner -- when he has command. And that will be the key for Johnson going forward. The change-up is much improved and looks like an average MLB pitch, which is more than enough considering the quality of his first top two offerings. He also has a solid cutter he goes to when he needs to draw weak contact. Rob Zastryzny has also looked good -- particularly with an improved curve ball that looks like it could be an average MLB pitch. If he can add that to his good change-up and solid average FB, that makes him a potential back-end starter at the MLB level if he can refine his command and keep the ball down in the zone
But the Cubs seem to want to attack pitching as they always have...with numbers. And it has worked. It's easy to forget that the Cubs starting pitchers led the majors in WAR and FIP (3.26) -- and that they had the Cy Young winner at the top of the rotation in Jake Arrieta. Teamed with Jon Lester, they had two of MLB's top starters and one of two teams to have two starters with 5 WAR or higher. The Dodgers, of course, were the other. If you count Kyle Hendricks, they were the only team to have three pitchers with 180 innings and finish in the top 20 in FIP.
Objectively, it is tough to make the case that the Cubs absolutely need to spend $200M for an ace. What they need is depth to go with those three pitchers. They could use as many as two good starters -- perhaps a mid-rotation type. They need more quality innings out of their rotation other than those 3. And they need the capability to more easily replace those pitchers if anything should happen. That means it's not just depth. It's depth capable of making an impact when their number is called.
Joe Maddon explains it's easier to suffer injuries to elite position players than to top-notch pitching, which is why he wants more of it.
— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) November 18, 2015
Of course, Maddon didn't go into detail. I suppose some will read into it as the Cubs wanting to sign Price or Greinke. The words "top-notch pitching" will add fuel to that kind of speculation. What I take out of this is that the Cubs want quality depth up and down their rotation and at the upper levels of their system.
Over the years, the Cardinals have been able to withstand injuries to Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, but they didn't do it by having a David Price waiting in the wings ready to be the new ace. They've done it with young arms like Carlos Martinez, Jaime Garcia, and Marco Gonzales. The Cubs don't have those kinds of top-notch prospects at the upper levels.
Tbe Cardinals have also had solid rotations from top to bottom. We've seen other teams like the Dodgers, Tigers, and Nationals be stronger up top, but weaker in the middle, back end, and especially in those 6,7, 8, and 9 spots in the rotation. They have not fared as well as far as the postseason and/or consistent regular season success over the long term.
I believe that the Cardinals are more the example of the kind of staff the Cubs will try to mimic this offseason, though the Cubs should remain stronger at the top. Not surprisingly, the Cardinals give themselves a chance every year by being in the playoffs and part of that is because they don't put all their chips in one basket.
This is not to say the Cubs won't sign Price or Greinke, but if they want depth, allocating those resources into just one pitcher makes it difficult. I do think the Cubs will get one impact pitcher to the rotation, possibly via free agency. If not an elite pitcher than maybe Jordan Zimmermann...maybe Mike Leake...maybe even Jeff Samardzija. This is an interesting bit of information...
— Phil Rogers (@philgrogers) November 19, 2015
Samardzija makes sense. He has the combination of power and control the Cubs like. They like his makeup, competitive nature, and presence in the clubhouse. There is familiarity on both sides. Samardzija certainly knows the city and its fan base. All of that makes for an easier transition.
There is also a smaller injury risk based on Samardzija's history, low mileage, and simply because he is a big, strong pitcher with clean mechanics.
Samardzija irked some fans because of his insistence on testing the market -- but another pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann, did the same exact thing with much less fanfare, at least in Chicago. Cubs fans don't seem to have a problem with signing him.
And then I think they will build on that by trading some of their position player depth for a rotation piece and/or depth. They could also sign pitchers like Doug Fister or Justin Masterson for maybe a Chris Young type role. Another option is to trade for young, cost-controlled impact pitching -- which would probably be the Cubs preference, but the prospect cost may prove prohibitive. Remember that the Cubs value their position player depth and flexibility as well. It may be more efficient to take on good upper level pitching prospects as depth rather than proven MLB starters with significant cost control.
The key is balance. If the Cubs can get someone like Price in a way that leaves them some flexibility to add substantial, quality depth, then that becomes an option as well. That is unlikely, but not impossible given Price's stated desire to play for the Cubs. If that desire means he'll be willing to take a deal that works within the Cubs overarching plan, then they'd be foolish not to take advantage of that. I'm skeptical that kind of scenario will play out, but the Cubs owe it to themselves to at least find out...if they haven't done so already.
But when it comes to free agency, I think a pitcher like Samardzija or Mike Leake is more likely than a top tier pitcher -- then with a top 3 that is as good as any in baseball, not to mention a very good rotation from top the bottom, the Cubs can focus on adding the kind of depth they may need over the course of a long season. The Cubs were lucky in the sense that their top 4 were healthy enough to pitch all season. That doesn't always happen (see 2004 Cubs). The Cubs need to be ready for that more than they need to funnel all their resources into just one player.
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