For a team that won its first World Series in 108 years, it’d be tempting to relish on that for the foreseeable future.
Not these Cubs.
The North-Siders have repeatedly told the press that they’re in it for the long haul, determined to turn a team that finished last in the NL Central just three seasons ago into a dynasty. And with the young nucleus they have in place, it’s hard to put that idea past them. However, while all seems good on the surface, there is one thing that could keep the Cubs from hoisting the trophy again and again for the next couple of years , and that’s their lack of starting pitching depth moving forward.
While the Cubs have a bevy of young, controllable position players, the same can’t be said on the pitching side. The only current pitcher that fits that criteria is Kyle Hendricks, and by looking at the rest of the roation after him it gets a little spotty. Jon Lester is 33 but signed for at least 4 more years including an option for a 5th and had one of his best seasons last year so we’re not particularly worried about him. As good as Jake Arrieta is, the lack of traction between him and the team on a new deal is unsettling, especially when Scott Boras – who is notorious for getting his clients to free agency – is his agent. It’s been reported that Arrieta is looking for a deal similar to what Max Scherzer received in 2015, which was for seven years and $210 million. Not only is that a mega deal the Cubs may not want to give out, Arrieta slowed down in the 2nd half last season to the tune of a 6-6 record and a 4.20 ERA after June. He’ll also be 31 when he hits free agency, and while Lester was around the same age when he signed his big deal two offseasons ago, he had been a consistent starter for years while Arrieta has only seen success for a few seasons. Reports have said the Cubs will only come to terms with Arrieta on a team-friendly deal for no more than 4 years, so it looks like the pitcher will hit free agency with a very unlikely chance to end back up with the Cubs. As for John Lackey, his contract is up after this season and the chance he resigns is slim, as he’ll be 39 by the end of the season. The Cubs do have a number of pitchers on the roster who could be a 5th starter option, but they are all still unproven as of now.
So with only Hendricks and Lester aboard for next season, the Cubs could bring in a free agent or two. However the pickings are slim. Chris Tillman, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson will be the only above average and over starters on the market who’re currently under 30. Not that they have to be that young, but a pitcher’s performance usually tends to decline once they hit their 30s. The Cubs could wait until 2018 when everyone and their mother is a free agent, but the aforementioned FAs after this season won’t come cheap. It might not be wise to spend big this upcoming offseason when the big boys (Matt Harvey, Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish, Dallas Keuchel, etc) are just a year away. On the other hand, spending even bigger bucks on those pitchers could keep the Cubs from maintaining their young position player core, as Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and others (not to mention Hendricks) will be in their arbitration years. Throw in the fact that the Cubs have no notable SPs in the minors ready to contribute right now – Dylan Cease, widely regarded as the team’s best pitching prospect, is at least a year and a half away – and the Cubs’ 2018 and beyond in the pitching department is cloudy.
However, the Cubs do have a number of top-billed position players in the minors, some of whom are roadblocked by current Cub stars. Ian Happ and Chesny Young are 2Bs but are blocked by Baez and Ben Zobrist. Jeimer Candelario is a 3B but is blocked by Bryant. Victor Caratini is a C/1B but is blocked by Contreras and Rizzo. Some of these players are close to being MLB-ready, and for Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer, 2017 is the time to flip these pieces for pitching help.
Controllable starting pitching is a treasured commodity in today’s MLB. Just a few offseasons ago we saw the Arizona Diamondbacks trade Dansby Swanson, the 10th best overall prospect that year (according to MLB.com), Ender Inciarte and top prospect Aaron Blair to the Atlanta Braves for Shelby Miller. While this deal was widely considered an overpay by the DBacks, you can see that getting a talented, proven, controllable starter like Miller doesn’t come cheap. However, in order for the Cubs to stay in championship contending mode for years to come, it would be fruitful to package these prospects for a SP moving forward.
While Cubs fans around the world celebrate last year’s title, you can bet the team’s front office is hard at work making sure they can win another one. Let’s hope that they’re discussing starting pitching.