How much have the Cubs improved? Part 1: Pitching

It is well understood that every team approaches the offseason with the intention of improving in some way, whether it is to build on the prior season's success and hopefully push things a step further, or to take a step out of the standings cellar and initiate the rebuilding process, and for most teams, it's usually somewhere in between. In the winter of 2014, we saw the Cubs take a couple of major steps forward with the additions of Joe Maddon at the helm and Jon Lester in the first spot in the rotation. Going into the 2015 season, I think most of us expected somewhere in the neighborhood of 83 wins and little to no expectation of a playoff appearance. I remember thinking at some point last February or March that they might just flirt with 90 wins, but that felt like a risky bet to make at the time.

Obviously, the Cubs greatly surpassed those expectations, competing in what proved to be a surprisingly strong NL Central. I'm not sure many people, if anyone, saw a 100, 98, and 97 win team all coming out of that division. What this means for 2016 for the Cubs is of course difficult to project. Not only because the calendar has not yet rolled over to the new year, but also because everything that we're looking at now is just on paper, so to speak. Going back to the original premise though, the idea here is that the front office sees what the Cubs can be capable of next season after a surprise NLCS appearance, and they have made the right kinds of moves to make this a team that is even better suited to contend. With that in mind, I'd like to take a look at the changes the have been made and attempt to flesh out the question as to how much better (again, on paper) the Cubs are going to be. For this post, I'll focus on the pitching, and then take a close look at the offense on another day.

Starting Pitching

I don't think there's a question that last season's rotational drop off from Lester and Jake Arrieta to pretty much everyone else was significant and probably played a large role in keeping the Cubs from being able to right the ship when things started to go south against the Mets two months ago. David Price and Zack Greinke were the glamorous free agents in this market, and while it seemed for a time that the Cubs might be the ones to snag Price, Theo and Jed made an addition to the rotation that I suspect will prove quietly masterful. The Cubs did not need another "ace" on the staff. In some senses, they already have two, so what they needed was exactly what John Lackey is likely to provide. Not only that, I think the money saved on pitching here probably played a large role in making the signings of Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward possible. 

Even if it didn't, Lackey's presence makes the third game in the rotation much, much less of a question mark and that by itself is a net gain. His projections for 2016 call for him to come down to earth a bit from what he did with the Cardinals last year, but even with that, Cubs fans will probably have little to complain about here. For some perspective, instead of seen Jason Hammel in this spot, it will be Lackey, and that's a difference in WAR of 1.2, just based on 2015 numbers. With the exception of missing 2012 due to Tommy John surgery, Lackey has been a workhorse his entire career, almost always making somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 starts each season. 

Beyond Lackey, things still remain a bit of a question mark, but there are more possibilities than what we've previously had. Hammel struggled mightily in the second half last season, but this may have been due to a leg injury that had not fully healed. For some perspective, Hammel's WHIP jumped from 0.945 in the first half (17 starts) to 1.493 in the second half (14 starts). Many of his other numbers are similar, but his hit and walk totals jumped way up, and his strikeouts went down significantly. The hope is that if the struggles were due to a nagging injury, and he can be even close to what he was in this first 17 starts in 2015, then our first four starters could be among the strongest in the league.

In the fifth spot, Kyle Hendricks probably pitched well enough in 2015, his first real full season, to merit consideration for this last spot in the rotation. He projects to have a similar season in 2016 as he had this year, but the rotation's greatest improvement might come from the fact that Hendricks can pitch like a back end starter, and not like a 3/4 like he had to for so much of 2015, especially in the second half. Adam Warren could contend for this spot as well, and our rotation is stronger to a large degree due to the depth that has been added. This weakness was plainly seen down the stretch last season, and without bullpen arms like Travis Wood, Clayton Richard, and Trevor Cahill, the Cubs could very well have missed the wild card spot altogether.

Bullpen

Unlike the rotation (and especially the offense), the bullpen has been where we have seen the least amount of change, and that's probably a good thing. As I mentioned earlier, the long relief arms were quietly one of the greater strengths of the team, and the front office has worked to keep it that way, signing Cahill to a one year deal and keeping Richard around for another year as well.

Along with the mastery of the long relief, the back end of our bullpen was about as strong of one as you'd find. Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon both project to have strong seasons in 2016, with perhaps slightly projected dips in performance. Even if this does prove to be the case, the strength in the bullpen is keeping the depth and deepening only further. Two bullpen arms that I expect to be worth keeping a close eye on in 2016 are those of Justin Grimm and Carl Edwards. If Strop and/or Rondon do falter, these might be the two who can step into those roles. Grimm had 3 saves and 15 holds in 2015, and Edwards had very limited experience this past season, but his recent move to the bullpen while in the minors indicates that he may be headed for a regular role in the bullpen. He might have the stuff to be a 8th or 9th inning pitcher too, as he earned 6 saves between Tennessee and Iowa in 2015. In his time with the Cubs this year, he used his fastball the most (about 64% of the time), and went to his curveball nearly the rest of the time (33%). Granted, it's a small number of pitches in the majors, but his fastball has shown to be effective (he gets it as high as 96 mph and he did not allow a hit on the fastball), and he got most of his strikeouts on the curveball.

Final thoughts

As was true in 2015, the offense provided the glamour this offseason, and I expect that while we'll have the most fun watching the handiwork of the lineup, the quiet strength of this team in 2016 will come from their pitching, namely a rotation that has been subtly improved in its depth, and a bullpen that I expect will build on the success of the previous season.

Filed under: Cubs, Front Office, Pitching

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  • fb_avatar

    John, I was wondering if you could expand on the pitchers by covering the extended rotation as it could be used in 2016. In other words, who are the projected 6th through 9th starters that Theo talks about. Perhaps those guys are already mentioned in Warren, Wood, Cahill and Richard, but who would be next on that list? Who is projected to be at AAA and is almost ready to make the jump for a double header start? Is it the likes of Beeler, Jokisch & Johnson since they are all on the 40 man? Is there anyone else that I missed that could be added soon?

  • In reply to Brian Steiner:

    Thanks, Brian. This is Jared's first piece, so you may want to ask him for details as it relates to his analysis, but i can say there is no doubt that the Cubs depth will be an important factor. They have several pitchers who can step in and be starters and if not, help save the bullpen with multi-inning relief appearances.

    If you are talking about the minor league depth, then I can certainly write something like that as a follow up to Jared's.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I thinking more about the minor league depth since that isn't always covered as often. Thanks

  • In reply to Brian Steiner:

    I expect Cahill, Richard and Warren and even Wood would get first crack at any opening. That is 9 guys right there.

    The main guys in AAA that are on the 40 man roster already are Pierce Johnson, Dallas Beeler and Eric Jokisch so that would be options 10-12 in all likelihood, although I'm not sure Beeler makes it through the offseason on the 40 man.

    Other BOR prospects that might push through at some point, but would need to be added to the 40 man roster would be Felix Pena, Ryan Williams, Rob Zastryzny and Brad Markey.

    Drew Rucinski is a veteran minor leaguer they also signed this offseason to provide some depth.

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    In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Thanks Michael

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    As far as anything better than a #5 starter from the minors there isn't much at the upper levels. If everything pans out for Pierce Johnson he could be similar to a Hammel type starter, I still think he is better suited in relief though. Duane Underwood Jr. will likely be in AA this season. He projects as a MOR guy, but probably isn't going to be ready until some time in 2017.

    Williams has a good sinker with very good command of the pitch but his secondaries are nothing special. I like him though and think he can contribute in the majors but he won't be an impact guy unless he finds an outpitch. Markey is an undersized righthander but has a good FB and breaking ball. His size could lead to some long ball trouble or durability issues as a starter, but he is another guy I think will eventually contribute. Pena has a solid mix of pitches, and he seems to get a little better every year, but doesn't have any standout quality to me.

  • In reply to Brian Steiner:

    Okay, thanks. I will look into doing something like that soon.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    And welcome to the team Jared. I wrote my post without bothering to check who wrote up the article. I do think it was a well put together article. Well done.

  • In reply to Brian Steiner:

    I think that is what we used to refer to as a "backhanded compliment". The post flowed so well with what they do here no one noticed. Welcome, Jared!

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Thank you! My hope here is to try not to miss the standard too badly.

  • In reply to Brian Steiner:

    Thanks Brian! The rotation beyond Lackey does get way less clear. Spring training should be interesting in that regard.

  • In reply to Jared Wyllys:

    You see Hendricks differently than I do. Per Fangraphs, he posted a 3.4 WAR last season, the same as Shelby Miller. They're very different pitchers, and Miller's profile is the more desirable, so I'm not saying he should be thought of or valued in the same way.

    But to say, "Kyle Hendricks probably pitched well enough in 2015, his first real full season, to merit consideration for this last spot in the rotation" and then to follow that up in the next sentence with, "He projects to have a similar season in 2016 as he had this year" seems incongruent given the numbers.

    The metrics suggest Hendricks is a solid #4 on this team (and better on a less talented/deep one). Steamer projects him for a 2.7 WAR this coming season. He had a 3.25 xFIP last season,13th best in the NL. I agree that it's likely he may regress a bit, but even on a championship caliber team, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better 4th starter. In fact, he'd be the best 4th starter of any of the NL playoff teams prior to the late arrival of Steven Matz.

    He pitched more innings than Hammel, induced way more groundballs (51.3% to 38.3%), and with his youth is a better bet to maintain his performance and stay healthy than Jason. If anyone is in danger of being replaced as the 5th starter, I'd say logic and statistics say it's Hammel.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    I'd agree with this general sentiment. However I'd also point out that Hendricks was protected by Maddon's managing. He was frequently pulled by the 5th inning and that likely pumped his WAR by quite a bit (by avoiding hits, walks, and runs against). Furthermore this 5 inning tendency creates a negative by-product by pressing the bullpen. It's not a Hendricks-specific problem per-se, as many 4th and 5th starters have/create this problem. There just isn't a statistic that captures it (yet).

  • In reply to Cubswin4harry:

    And I apologize in advance, I don't get to read/comment here very often anymore, so I probably won't see your response. But the general idea is not disimilar to any WAR maximization argument. What is better: player X in CF and Heyward in RF, or Heyward in CF and Soler in RF. Hendricks as #4 with W, X,Y,Z combo bullpen, or Player B, who can go 7 innings and needs only Y,Z combo bullpen? How many wins did Hendricks/Hammel/Wada/Haren, cost the Cubs by taxing the bullpen with 5 inning starts? Beats me, but Fangraphs should probably get on it.

  • In reply to Cubswin4harry:

    No one's doubting Kyle's shortcomings, and we agree that not pitching later into games taxes a bullpen. My point is that the differences between the two aren't so extreme that he'd clearly rank behind Hammel and be considered on the bubble.

    Hendricks went 5 innings or less in 13 of his 31 starts, 15 in 30 starts for Hammel. The bullpen relieved both pitchers in the 7th inning or later in 14 starts. Not much difference with the edge going to Hendricks who also had the only complete game between the two. If Kyle's WAR was protected by Maddon, so was Jason's.

    Hammel has never pitched more than 180 innings in his entire career. Hendricks did it in his first full season and pitched 183 in the minors and majors combined the year before. Kyle's going into his age 26 season and is over 7 years younger than Hammel with no injury history. If I had to choose the more reliable pitcher over the course of next season, I'm going with Hendricks.

    But that's beside the point I'm making. The writing raises some inconsistencies in logic and the analysis is wobbly. Jared and I just see him differently. That said, it's a good article, but I disagree with the way he portrayed Hendricks.

  • In reply to Brian Steiner:

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  • fb_avatar

    Great article! Excited to read your stuff in the future. I would love to see one more solid power arm in the bullpen. Hopefully Grimm and Edwards produce like you suggested. For me every time late in the season or the playoffs Strop or Rondon came in I got a knot in my stomach. I watched them all season and thought they were great but when you put them against the other great bullpens in the playoffs I lost a little confidence. Could just be my perception compared to reality.

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    John, do you see Edwards taking Rameriz role from 2014 and Rameriz in AAA? I thought Rameriz was pretty dominate in 2014. Or is his ability to stay healthy. I think the Cubs pen could be special this year. With Warren, Cahill, Edwards, Rameriz, Grimm, Strop, Rondon, Wood, Richards and Brothers. That is ten big league arms. Love the site, thanks for all your hard work.

  • In reply to Kevin:

    I could easily see that happening if Edwards outpitches Ramirez and/or Ramirez isn't fully healthy.

    Thanks. And this was Jared's first piece, by the way. He did a great job.

  • In reply to Kevin:

    I could see Edwards outpitching Ramirez and taking his job, but I don't think Ramirez sees AAA. He is out of options and I don't see how he would make it through waivers. He is definitely the type of arm a bad team would take a chance on.

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    In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Regardless, the Cubs will have some tough decision to make with the bullpen since, with Edwards they would have 6 righties and then Wood. Does that mean that Richards likely starts the year in the minors? Or which of the other righties starts the year in the minors? Good problems to have, I would hate to lose Ramirez based on his 2014 numbers. But who knows if he can stay healthy.

  • In reply to Kevin:

    It is likely someone will start the year on the DL so I don't worry too much about who makes the opening day roster very much. The final position player and the final pitcher on most MLB rosters fluctuate throughout a season so much.

    But if I had to take a stab right now I would say the team keeps 8 relievers. These six seem like locks barring a trade:
    Wood*
    Cahill
    Warren
    Grimm
    Strop
    Rondon

    I expect at least one of the final two spots to go to a lefty (Brothers, Richard, Rosscup being the options). last spot might come down to Ramirez and Edwards. Edwards and Rosscup may be at a disadvantage coming out of ST because they can be sent to the minors. Ramirez is out of options, Richard has options but has accrued enough MLB service time that he can refuse to report and choose FA. Brothers has options, but must pass through revocable waivers before he can be assigned to the minors.

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    In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Yup. If Richard pitches well in the spring and doesn't make the team, he will be on some other team to start the season. Maybe even as a 5th-6th starter.

  • In reply to Kevin:

    We still have a problem here as I pointed out last week.

    You listed 10 relief pitchers. At best we have room for 8 on the 25 man roster. 2 would have to be sent down to AAA. Of those listed I think only Rameriz and Edwards have options.

    Unless someone gets hurt in spring training, that is the only way we keep everyone we have signed. Great problem to have all the talent but I think we lose someone once the season starts.

  • Not clear if Jared is saying something has to be done about the 4th spot, but I don't think one can count on Hammel.

  • In reply to jack:

    That is one of the big reasons Warren is here and also why the Cubs continue to seek cost controlled SPs. They need two good halves and they need him to provide more innings per start.

  • In reply to jack:

    Arrieta, Lester, Lackey, Hammel, Hendricks. The good news is that we have a decent depth in long relievers and I'd feel comfortable with a Wood/Richards game every other week or so combining to give you 6.2 innings. I know we did it more out of need than desire, but if any injury happens to any of the above, or Hammel or Hendricks ultimately prove to be ineffective this year, there's plenty of options for back of rotation starters in trades this year. They're considerably easier to acquire mid season than high value TOR starters. Nothing to overpay on, nothing to really worry about. I find the bullpen to be significantly more questionable than the rotation, which is a nice place to be in.

  • In reply to awfullyquiet:

    I also completely neglected Warren here as well. Silly me.

  • In reply to jack:

    You're right. That spot feels like the biggest question mark right now. Hammel I have high hopes for if he's healthy, but as we've seen, things can go really badly.

  • fb_avatar

    Nice article Jared. I think a big question going into this season is Hammel. Obviously he had a massive drop off in the second half. I tend to agree that the hamstring injury was a factor in the bad second half. Although you can't completely discount a Jason Marquis scenario, where the wear and tear of the season lessens his performance. But you are right with the Hammel from the start of the season at the 4 this is a good rotation. I also really like Warren, I think he could be a 5th starter this season.

  • fb_avatar

    If Neil Ramirez comes back, and they leave Warren in the bullpen, the team could have an awesome relief core.

  • Nice first piece Jared. Pitching is an area that I have been very excited as to what the FO has been doing this year. First their continued efforts at finding diamonds in the rough is great to see. I got into an argument with someone this past season, either here or on another site, where they were arguing that championship caliber ballclubs don't go bargain hunting . I couldn't possibly disagree with that more particularly when it comes to long relief and rotation depth. Teams need a minimum of 9 starters between the MLB rotation, teh bullpen and AAA to mitigate risk of injury and attrition. All you have to do is look at the Cardinals. Granted they draft a lot of those guys but I'm not sure that it matters where you get them. I'll never forget the 2013 playoffs where both St. Louis and Boston trotted a virtual parade of arms in the march to the WS. It matters.

    As far as the rotation goes one thing that I think has been a bit overlooked is the acquisition of Adam Warren. Unless I'm missing something I think this guy can absolutely compete with Kyle Hendricks for that fifth spot and competition is a good thing. I know Hendricks is a bit of a fan favorite but relying a guy that needs pinpoint command to be effective always makes me nervous. If Warren were to beat him out I'd be happier with a guy with 5 pitches there than a guy who basically relies on 2.

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    In reply to TC154:

    It would be just like the Cubs to get a guy who turns out to be a really solid starter for much less than what everyone else is paying. But he's been so much better as a reliever, I'd that's where he ends up.

  • In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    He had a nice start to the season last year for the Yankees though. I've mentioned here a couple of times that friend of a friend who is a MLB scout told my buddy 10 minutes after the trade was made that the Cubs in Warren basically acquired Shelby Miller without the hype and he personally couldn't understand why he wasn't a lock in someone's rotation. Now that's one guy's opinion but I'm hoping he's right. I only saw him pitch a couple of times, including a start against Boston last year which he won but I can't remember having an opinion one way or another.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Thanks, and I agree. On of the things I'll be most excited to follow in spring training will be the competition for the 4/5 spots in that rotation.

  • In reply to TC154:

    It may be that Warren could perform as well as fifth starter as Hendricks could. But Warren has proven that he can perform in the bullpen, while Hendricks has not.

    I think that if both perform equally as starters in spring training, Hendricks will be the fifth starter. In fact, I think that even if Warren performs a bit better, he will still go to the bullpen to start the season.

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    In reply to TC154:

    I just pray Adam Warren doesn't turn into a pumpkin upon traded. People don't give Cashman much credit, but he's a pretty good darn GM.

    I am a pessimistic by nature but also realistic. I seen Warren pitch a lot last year, and was very impressed. I was also stunned that the Yankees ( once the pen was healthy ) that they didn't move Warren back into the rotation. That tells me something, and really makes me believe that this could turn out bad for us if he's needed to start. Not Shane Greene bad. Now that was a brilliantly disguised moved by Cash and co. That didn't help Dombroski earn any brownie points in mo town .

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    I think it's worth saying that the Cubs may have underestimated the market for pitching. They thought that the lack of power hitters in the game (which they were right about) would drive up the price on right handed power. To this point, though, it's still pitching that dominates and I think they have to be a little shocked at the sticker price on even middle of the rotation pitchers.

    So, to their credit, they've adapted to the marketplace well and got deals much more likely to help them than throwing $30M a year at Price. But, given that most of the Cubs pitching prospects are an eternity away, they need to find a way to make the next few years happen. That's where their misjudgment on the relative price of pitching and power may cost them in the near future. On the other hand, the Gammons article may imply Theo thinks he can get a better deal in July. Time will tell.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Basically they're hoping on a correction in the market for controllable starters and you're 100% right in that only time will answer that. If there is no correction the Cubs are positioned, in terms of prospects, to make an eventual deal for a guy anyway but they'll need more value out of the key player in a deal than either Soler or Baez have now and, this might be the most important part, they can't miss on the guy they trade for. If Shelby Miller doesn't at least equal his 2015 season the Diamondbacks are cooked and may have given up a generational SS for the right to that roasting. I sincerely hope the Cubs don't get backed into a similar corner because they are going to have to trade for that kind of pitcher eventually.

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    In reply to TC154:

    I think it is far from certain that they will trade for "that type of pitcher." What the team has actually done so far, is draft hitters, sign pitchers, and make value trades for pitchers. A lot of people assume that will change, but it hasn't so far. And I believe in two years there will be another good crop of free agent pitchers, just as Hammel and Lackey come off the books.

  • In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    2018 is the big FA class but will the best pitchers be $40 mil AAV by then? Maybe you can afford one of those guys but I don't a way around getting a guy who can grow into the role. Time will tell of course.

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    In reply to TC154:

    Yes, time will tell. So far, the team has acquired young hitters and been will to sign free agent pitchers. People assume that will change. I'm not convinced. I'm sure the hope is that in a couple of years, they'll have developed their own young pitchers. But if not, they will have a lot of financial resources.

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    In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    Such as Arrieta?

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    In reply to Brian Steiner:

    Exactly. He's what I would call a "value trade." They didn't give up a core piece of the team. Maybe they got lucky, but also smart. Good scouting, player development, coaching.

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    In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    They're in a different spot now. Before, they could afford to make a bet on unfulfilled potential like Arrieta. Now they're playing for a World Series. They've given up their first round picks, committed hundreds of millions in salary, and are looking to move Soler for a major league piece. (And they absolutely did shop him even if they aren't actively doing so now.) They might still grab some guys like Arrieta and hope for the best but their moves right now are focused on floor as well as ceiling. Even with the Castro deal it's notable they took a guy who can start for them today. It's just a matter of where the team is.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    I agree they are in a different spot. And Arrieta is not a great example, for a variety of reasons. For me, most of the people here who are willing to trade Soler argue for it because they question how good he'll be. He's injury prone, or poor defensively, or whatever. Right? If you're like me and view him, as Maddon said, as a building block, then you might listen to offers, but someone is going to have to overpay to get him.

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    In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    If that was where they are, they wouldn't have shopped him. They simply would have let people come to them with offers. They are actively trying to turn their surplus in RH Power into pieces they need. They simiply can't do it at this point.

  • In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    I'm not sure they were looking for an overpay but when it turned out that THEY would have to overpay for pitching even with Soler in the deal he was pulled off the market. There's no spin in the world that can tell me that the FO wasn't actively shopping him. They just realized the greater value, for right now, was to hold on to him and I'm inclined to agree after the Miller deal.

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    In reply to TC154:

    Agree completely.

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    In reply to TC154:

    "Shopping" is a strong word. I too have no doubt they discussed trades with him involved. I think this management team explores everything. They are just going to deal on their terms. So...let's say Soler has great first half of the season and the Cubs are in playoff contention. Do they trade him then, because his value is up, and they can get more? I wouldn't bank on it.

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    In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    You're splitting hairs. The only conversation they had with regard to Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant was, "He's not available." And yet with two teams (that has been revealed publicly) they were trying hard to move Soler for a piece they wanted. If they had to be blown away by an offer, they would have said, "He's not available."

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    In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    How do you know what happened? Northside wrote that Atlanta asked for Bryant. We all laughed. So you have it on authority that the Cubs then said, "No, but we'll trade you Soler straight up"? What I read what that teams were "in love" with Soler. I never read that they were shopping him. Maybe I'm wrong.

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    In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    When they asked for Bryant for Miller (if it happened, different stories), the Cubs stopped negotiating. It was never discussed. When they asked for Soler, the Cubs said, okay, let's talk about this. Then, after the deal, the Cubs come back for Inciarte and Soler is, again, the topic of conversation. Negotiations weren't simply shut down. Same in Cleveland. Potentially the same in other cities. They acted differently than with Bryant.

  • In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    It depends upon other factors, of course, but I would think that if Soler has a great first half of the season, and Baez also looks as if he is going to come close to his ceiling, they will certainly try to trade Soler for a TOR pitcher. They would be foolish not to look into the possibilities.

    The reason why they have not traded Soler (or for that matter, anyone) by now is that they have not gotten what they feel is an advantageous return. There is substantial concern that Soler will not be able to achieve his ceiling because of health, defense, contact or whatever, and that naturally reduces his trade value. If his performance next season causes some of those worries to decline, his trade value will go up, along with the trade offers. If at midseason, the Cubs need a top pitcher more than they need Soler, they will do it.

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    In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    We'll see. But I can't think of a single example where a big market team (not the A's) traded a high-performing, everday player in the middle of a season in which they were in playoff contention. Trade a bunch of minor leaguers: sure.

  • In reply to Cubs Win 009:

    I agree with you 009. "shopping" is a strong word to use with potential Soler trades. Yes the Cubs were shopping for controlled young SP and were willing to pay for it with Soler. But that is different than saying to the other teams "We have Soler, what are you willing to give us?" That is what I would call "shopping" a player. The Cubs like Soler but are willing to trade him for a Salazar type SP. You have to give value to get value.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    I think that might be true. Waiting for the deadline may be the smarter move. The Rangers look like geniuses right now for the Hamels trade. Got a TOR arm for multiple years for a lot less of a contract commitment than was spent on Price and Greinke. And the Phillies were more motivated to move because their season was going very badly.

  • In reply to Sean Holland:

    great point

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Good point. But instead of a misjudgment about the balance between power hitting and pitching value, could it be that the inertia of conventional thinking about pitching is that hard to overcome? I wonder if the market would have changed, if in a small sample size, the Cubs hitters did to the Mets what they did against the Cards.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I think once the Cubs win a WS with a good offense more teams will try following suit.

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    In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Some of the best offensive teams in recent memory couldn't win it all. Pitching wins championships. But I feel pretty confident that we won't have that much of a drop off. Our starting 5 and BP are both looking pretty good. 10 qulity arms for the pen right now. I hope Maddon picks the right ones out of ST.

  • In reply to Brian Steiner:

    I feel that's a bit of a misnomer or rather it's misinterpreted as that great starting rotations win championships and that's not always so. The Royals just won a WS with a mediocre rotation and a great bullpen. SF won the year before with exactly one great starter and whole lot of average ones that happened to have some good games. To me you don't win a World Series without pitching depth somewhere, either in your bullpen or your rotation or both. Now combine solid if unspectacular pitching with great offense and you might just have a winning formula.

  • In reply to TC154:

    This. The need for starting pitching is overrated imo. Defense, offense, baserunning, bullpens are just as important, but every time a team like the Mets builds a great rotation people lose their minds and think they are unbeatable.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I think that Kris Bryant could bring back most any starter in baseball.

  • Nicely put together post. You have an enjoyable style.
    I hope you are right about the pitching. I have to admit to being most concern with the staff. Arrieta cannot be as good as last season, Lackey is getting older, and the long relief caught some lightening in the bottle. That being said, I like the way the FO is bringing in more arms as a contingency. Injuries and regression occur. It is nice to see a plan other than "waiting for Prior and Wood to get healthy."

  • First article! Good walk around the park. I am thinking the Cubs were quite fortunate with Hammel last year in the first three months. He has always been a promising BOR pitcher edging up to a MOR but not really, who has extended effectiveness with a 1.35 bWAR (1.86 fWAR) over the 8 years he has been a regular SP'er, his best years 2009-2012. Therefore there are two paths, trade this off season for aggregate value or roll the dice and trade mid season and hope Johnson or Underwood ascend or acquire someone that truly is a MOR SP'er.

    Me, I heard Cubs noodling at Shields again despite the price tag, and all that could be had provided they move $21M in aggregate costs, (think Hammel at $9M+2M) then arb eligibles ranging from est $11M to $8.6M or $22M to 19.6M. Shields even though he had what was a down year has an out clause after 2016. Shields has a 2.85 bWAR (3.21 fWAR) over ten seasons. That is what you want in a 3rd/4th SP'er for a WS contender. BTW Lackey is 2.65 bWAR (3.06 fWAR) so both those players almost are interchangeable was MOR starters if they remain healthy for 30 starts.

    The rest is all good though I think there is a lot of redundancy in the bullpen. (Woods & Richards), (Warren and Cahill) and (Strop and Grimm), plus there is Brothers, ( Ramirez and Edwards) and then Rondon. Logic tells me someone will be wearing another colored uniform.

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    Nicely written Jared!

  • In reply to Kevin:

    Thank you!

  • I don't think Maddon will hesitate pulling Hammel or Hendricks early in games at any point this year. He potentially has 4 multi inning capable relievers in the pen (Cahill, Richard, Warren, Wood). I wouldn't be shocked to see plenty of 4th inning double switches this year with Javy entering the game and Cahill or Warren going 2-3 innings.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I'm hoping this is the next market inefficiency to be exploited. Use swingmen to improve the bottom of rotation. How much better is a #4 or #5 starter that only has to go through the order twice?

  • Kyle Hendricks was worth 3.4 fWAR last year. That's a little better than probably pitching well enough to earn a spot in the rotation.

  • In reply to thundercub:

    He is competing with a guy in Hammel who put up a pretty good fWAR (2.4), another who put up 2.2 in Warren (in half a season in rotation), as well as a former 18 game winner in Cahill, a former all star in Wood, a former solid back of the rotation guy in Richard. The Cubs have 9 guys with credentials and all had at least limited success last year in various roles.

  • They did a good job of building depth with the starters and maintaining their middle relief I'm not a fan of the Lackey signing but for what they will pay him they got a great deal if he stays healthy. Cook and Brothers could also make an impact in the 7th-9th

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    Jared, welcome to the Den! It's good to read about our pitching and what we think will happen. I believe that Arrieta will come back a bit--we can't expect another 1.74 era and a second half like he had, but also maybe Hendricks and a few others get better and that Lester gets better support too. Warren seems like someone that could do very well, be it as a reliever or starter. I see us having a very good rotation and w/o a weak starter in the group.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    Thank you! I am hoping that Arrieta won't need to have a second half like he did because, like you said, others on the staff will pick up some of the load. I don't expect that he'll throw 220 innings again, regardless of how well he's pitching.

  • Is there any word on Neil Ramirez? If he can return to anywhere near his 2014 levels he could be another great option.

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