For Cubs, 2015 Pitching Auditions Already Underway

For Cubs, 2015 Pitching Auditions Already Underway
Image: Rob Foldy, Getty Images

At this point, it should be clear that the Cubs are not willing to be doormats in the NL Central in 2015.  Claiming Cole Hamels on trade waivers last week is a clear illustration of the game plan for next season.  Adding at least one, and possibly more, high end pitchers to team with the existing pitchers while the plethora of hitting potential begins flowing into Chicago is what is in store for next season.

Before we look forward to the off-season, where Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, James Shields, Justin Masterson, and others will surely be on the Cubs' radar, it is important to look in-house first.  Assuming the Cubs add one established major league pitcher, the Cubs will have four open spots in the rotation in 2015 to be filled by Jake Arrieta,  Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Hendricks, Dan Straily, Felix Doubront, and Jacob Turner.  That does not include prospects C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson, who by the end of next season, may be knocking on Wrigley's door.

As far as the veteran options go, in Wood and Jackson, neither is looking like a viable option to fill in the middle of the rotation, which is what the Cubs would prefer.  The fact that both have struggled so mightily this season will necessarily factor into just how aggressive the Cubs are with trades and free agency this winter.  For Travis Wood, there was some regression expected as we turned the page into 2014.  Believe it or not, his Skill Interactive ERA (SIERA) is exactly the same now as it was last season (4.43) and his xFIP is actually one point lower than it was last season (4.49 now vs. 4.50 in 2013). The good news is that we should expect a regression back to somewhere in the middle of where he was last season and where he is this season, which would likely place his ERA around 4.00.  The bad news is that's not a middle of the rotation starter.  For the Cubs, if things break well, that may not actually be good enough to make the rotation at all.  As far as Edwin Jackson goes, the end of his tenure with the Cubs is likely near.  Unless he can somehow rediscover the performance that caused the Cubs to sign him before 2013 between now and the end of the season, the Cubs will likely pay a lot of Jackson's remaining contract for a team desperate for a back of the rotation starter to take him.

Conservatively speaking, there should be two spots left in the rotation for Kyle Hendricks, Dan Straily, Felix Doubront, and Jacob Turner.  Kyle Hendricks, at least early on, is making a case to be in the back of the rotation...and don't say fifth starter like it's a bad turnerthing.  Every team needs one that can pitch adequately and keep his team in the ballgame.  That's Hendricks.  He's not Greg Maddux.  But his 3.87 SIERA and xFIP of 3.68 plays pretty well at the end of the rotation.  With likely one spot left for Straily, Doubront, and Turner, the Cubs need to hope that one of these players turns it around.  The best track record is Straily, who pitched well for the Oakland A's in 2013.  This season, he had trouble keeping the ball in the yard while pitching with Oakland.  If he can correct that, he fits well as a fourth starter option.  The best pedigree of the group belongs to former top prospect Jacob Turner.  While with Miami, Turner had decent peripheral numbers for a back end starter, pitching to a 3.97 SIERA and 3.92 xFIP.  He did not allow more line drives, kept the ball on the ground more, and reduced his fly ball rate, but with the reduced fly ball rate came an increased home run rate.  Being only 23, however, if he can recapture any of what made him one of the game's top pitching prospects only two years ago, Turner could be a revelation for the Cubs in much the same way Arrieta has been this season.  It is difficult to envision a scenario where Doubront makes it into the rotation out of spring.  With that being said, he does provide quality depth as a long reliever and spot starter, if the Cubs choose to go that route with him.

There is no scenario where C.J. Edwards or Pierce Johnson makes the club out of spring.  With the front office's valuation of Triple A, they could both find themselves in Iowa at the start.  Edwards, in fact, could see some time in Double A if it is decided that his bout with shoulder inflammation slowed his development to that extent.  It remains possible that Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez get the opportunity to stretch out in spring and make a case to start, but with the existing depth and potential for further additions, that remains a more distant possibility.  That possibility is pushed back even further by the success Ramirez has had in the bullpen this season.  Grimm, all jokes aside, has also pitched well out of the bullpen this season, making any chance he joins the rotation pretty distant, as well.

Ultimately, the success of the Cubs next season will depend on this group.  While the young hitters are adjusting to playing at the big league level (which they would need to do whether they were playing in Chicago now, or not), it will be incumbent on the pitching to be consistently good to push the Cubs into playoff contention.  Regardless, we are seeing the end of accepting a poor major league product as part of the process, and 2015 brings the potential of competing with grand scale aspirations coming into clearer focus.

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    In 5 starts, Hendricks has a 2.10 ERA, with a 1.02 whip. 1 of those starts in the launching pad in Colorado

    What part of that looks like a 5th starter to you?

    You seem to think you have to throw 94 MPH to be considered a top 3 starter. That is a fallacy. 97 MPH fastballs get hit out of the park every day and often, when they are left in the middle of the plate. 90 MPH fast balls at the knees and on the corner, rarely leave the yard.

    Everywhere Hendricks has pitched, he has shown pinpoint control. No reason to believe he will lose that control.

  • In reply to PerfectGamer:

    I believe Andy is basing that assessment on Kyle Hendricks' profile and not the small sample he has so far, however impressive. But if he can sustain it, I'm inclined to be as giddy as you are about Hendricks' potential as a top-of-the-rotation guy.

  • In reply to PerfectGamer:

    My valuation of Kyle Hendricks was for 2015. His five starts have been outstanding, but it is a small sample, and traditionally, when opponents have not had the opportunity to see a pitcher, it is to the pitcher's advantage. Don't forget that 2015 will be his first full season in the majors. I am a huge Hendricks fan, although I do not think he will be a high end starter in the long term. Every good team needs a quality fourth and fifth starter, and Hendricks can be that guy. There is nothing wrong with that. He has to pitch to contract, work efficiently, and rely on his defense more. More balls in play, though, means more hits and more runs. I think he is a guy who, next year, will be a nice back of the rotation starter, and going forward, be a very good back of the rotation starter. That's not knocking him. In fact, that is a compliment. There are a lot of excellent starting pitchers in minor league ball who can't crack a MLB rotation. Hendricks will and will stay there for a long time.

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    I can see no real reason why Jon Lester isn't part of the Cubs plans. I know he has publicly said that he'd love to go back to Boston but I think that whole way Boston treated his contract extension may have left a sour taste in his mouth. We have the need as well as the money to overpay if necessary so all I need to know is what # Lester will wear.... lol

    Also, with C.J. Edwards inability to gain weight I just think the safer play would to have him at the back end of the bullpen, maybe an 8th inning guy. We are going to have some extremely strong arms in that bullpen for years to come, imo.

    As much as fans may simply adore Kyle Hendricks, I just don't see him keeping these same type of results for an entire year. He has been proving doubters wrong for a very long time but I can't see him being higher than a fringy #3 type of guy that able to keep his team close and maybe eat some innings. But if he nails down the #4 spot for the next 3 or 4 years I'd consider him a huge success!

    Jen-Ho Tseng might be our best pitching prospect but he's only 19 and pretty far away....

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    There are a series of pitchers the Cubs will look into this off-season, and Lester is absolutely on that list. It takes two to make a deal, though, so as far as additions go, we'll have to wait and see.

    Weight for pitchers, while nice, can be overrated. If he can put on good weight and his shoulder can take the workload, there is no reason Edwards cannot be a middle of the rotation of better starting pitcher.

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