Though the trade deadline is over, the questions facing the Chicago Cubs are only beginning to pile up. In the wake of what was (in my opinion, anyway) a very active, successful trade deadline for the Northsiders, the pitching staff has been left in shambles with more decimation almost certainly on its way in the offseason.
Here, I’ll try to construct a feasible rotation (for the sake of this article, I’ll be focusing only on the rotation. Decent bullpen pitchers are a dime a dozen and fluctuate every year) out of the players we already have in place, those who are in the minor leagues and those who will be available via free agency.
Of those players currently in what remains of the starting rotation, I believe that only two - Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood – have a reasonable shot of staying there long-term. With that in mind, our current rotation looks a little something like this:
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Travis Wood
Its entirely possible, I should add, that Samardzija or Wood might develop into more than a middle-of-the rotation pitcher, but I think both of their ceilings probably sit around a No. 2 or 3 starter on the high end, so that’s where I’ll leave them for now.
The first place to look for pitching talent, beyond the current team, is of course the minor leagues. There, a couple of players stand out.
First, Arodys Vizcaino, who the Cubs received from Atlanta in the Maholm/Reed Johnson trade Monday night. Listed as the No. 40 prospect in baseball prior to the 2012 season, Vizcaino is only 21 years old and has a ton of promise.
He appeared in 17 games in the big leagues at age 20 in 2011, all out of the pen, and didn’t experience much success. In 17.1 innings pitched he gave up 9 runs on 16 hits and 9 walks. The ERA wasn’t pretty (4.67) and neither was the WHIP (1.442), but he also struck out seventeen batters.
From those numbers alone, a pretty good picture starts to appear. He’s got a live arm, but a wild arm (5 wild pitches and 1 hit batter in those 17.1 innings). And while Cubs fans are probably already having nightmares of some of Carlos Marmol’s more erratic outings, there is room for hope. Primarily because this was all from a 20-year-old pitching at the major league level.
Also, Vizcaino’s minor league numbers are an entirely different story. In only four years Vizcaino plowed his way through the minors, posting a 2.91 ERA, 9.3 K/9 and a 1.12 WHIP with 50 of his 65 total minor league appearances coming as a starter.
Unfortunately, at the end of last season, Vizcaino underwent Tommy John surgery and has not pitched since. He is; however, ahead of schedule in his recovery and recovering from one of the most well-perfected surgeries in all of baseball. Assuming no major hiccups, Vizcaino – whose fastball reportedly hits 101 with some frequency – could be a real asset to the Cubs in the relatively near future.
Another name to look out for might be AA right-hander Nicholas Struck. Trey McNutt was the big pitching buzz in the minor league system a year or two ago, but he’s now in his second sub-par season in AA and seems to be a bit lost. The 22-year-old Struck; however, has put together a pretty nice minor league career in less than three seasons.
He has a 3.69 career minor league ERA and a 1.319 WHIP which he has actually kept down to 1.261 in 119 innings this season. He’s still at least a year away, I’d assume, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. Also worth a look down the road, according to scouts who list them in the Cubs’ top-10 pitching prospects, will be Rafael Dolis and Dillon Maples.
Now, onto the free agent market.
The biggest name likely to be on this winter’s market is Giants co-ace Matt Cain, though I’m sure the Giants will take steps to resign him. He’s 27 this season, probably the oldest that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer would be willing to go when stockpiling players for a team that’s still a year or two away. If I had to go with my gut, I’d say the Cubs won’t be players for Cain, but it’s not entirely out of the question.
That, however, is really the end of the list as far as free agent pitchers go. By rule, most free agents are in their upper twenties already (since they have to have compiled six years of major league experience to be a free agent) and likely out of the age range that Epstein and Hoyer are looking for. If the Cubs decide to add pitching depth via free agency, it’s going to be another year or two down the road. So where does that leave us?
1. Arodys Vizcaino/Free Agent
2. Free Agent/Arodys Vizcaino
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Travis Wood
5. Rafael Dolis/Dillon Maples/Nicholas Struck/Free Agent
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