The Future of Cubs Pitching

The Future of Cubs Pitching

The Twitters were abuzz tonight with the news that the Cincinnati Reds and pitcher Homer Bailey were progressing towards an extension.  The MLB Trade Rumors blurb suggested that it would be around six years, $100MM, and for all intents and purposes it removes Bailey from the free agent market for pitching next offseason.  I look at the free agent list for next year, and if we get past the top tier that includes Max Scherzer, James Shields and Justin Masterson, the best of the rest isn't really that good.  While the Royals aren't exactly flush with money, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Shields can be extended.  There are persistent talks of Scherzer and Masterson negotiating with their parent clubs on extensions as well.  Even if the Cubs had money to spend after the 2014 season as President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein suggested, there seem to be only the following options left:

Guys whose options probably get picked up (or extended beyond that year):

Brett Anderson
Johnny Cueto
Yovani Gallardo
Hisashi Iwakuma

Old as Hell

Josh Beckett
Kevin Correia
Ryan Dempster (who's possibly retiring)
Aaron Harang
Wandy Rodriguez
Ryan Vogelsong

Meh

Pretty much everyone else.

So the Cubs, if they are still following their plan and if the prospects aren't on track yet, may be stuck in their 2013-2014 offseason plan: hoping that a free agent comes along at a young age that they can throw money at, because the options available to them, assuming the high-quality pitchers get extended, aren't that attractive.

The alternative is trade.

The Cubs currently have one of the best farm systems in MLB, but the problem is the lack of pitching depth.  While the Cubs have interesting arms in Kyle Hendricks, C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson, the debate is whether they are actually ready for the big time.  My feeling is that the in-house pitchers need additional development time and won't be able to contribute until later this season or even 2015.  At the same time, there is a need for veteran pitching presences to help solidify the rotation and serve as mentors to the younger pitchers.

I checked the Fangraphs pitching leaderboard, gating on pitchers aged 27 or younger.  We see guys like Clayton Kershaw who have already been extended.  Generally, pitchers this young who are on their way towards becoming elite will probably never make it to free agency unless their parent club is strapped for cash, like with David Price and Tampa Bay thus far.  It may be possible to acquire young studs like Matt Harvey and Chris Sale, but that is on the edge of delusion due to their youth, production, and the fact that those clubs would want the moon in return.  The Cubs are stacked with position players in their system, but even they will have a limit as to how much they want to empty the cupboards.

As those same Cubs position player prospects graduate into MLB, Theo Epstein and friends may think that they are getting closer to contention.  With the rotation having just Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood as locks and Jeff Samardzija's future in question, the front office will have to make some very difficult decisions in order to acquire a top-tier starter until the younger pitchers prove their worth.  In my estimation, the potential Homer Bailey extension and other likely transactions are going to force the Cubs' hand fairly soon.

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  • I think an offensively strong team can be competitive and even make the playoffs with a rotation composed of solid #3 starters, and we seem to have three or four pitching prospects who will be in AA this year who can be #3s or even one or two borderline #2s by the time 2016 rolls around. But the lack of a bona fide #1 and #2 starter is a clear disadvantage in a short playoff series. Any potential #1 free agent starter who becomes available in the 2014 and 2015 offseasons will draw a lot of interest from the Cubs, but it's far more likely that we're going to have to obtain that kind of starter through trades that will cost us a few of our better prospects. Which is why the front office was so hot to get Tanaka, and why the 4-year opt-out requirement was the deal killer for us.

  • Pretty silly to put Max, Shields, Masterson in same boat. Max has risen to elite ranks. Shields is more of a lower-case ace. Masterson, tho very good in '13, has been inconsistent in his career, and struggles too much vs lefty hitters.

  • In reply to michaelc:

    The point is that all of those options are better than what will be ready for the Cubs by the time they all reach free agency.

  • Makes a Cubs fan hope for a great draft this June in which we get one or two supreme fireballers not too far from MLB-ready. Likely. No. Possible. Indeed.

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