The Cubs and Pitching

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The fallout from the Chicago Cubs trading of both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel continues to roll in. There are a percentage of fans who are complaining about the trade of the team’s best two pitchers; however, most of them are not complaining for the reason you might be thinking.

You of course have those fans who are upset that the Cubs traded away their top two pitchers just when the team finally seemed to be putting everything together. Despite having a month of over .500 baseball, the Cubs are still stuck in last place, several games under .500 and quite a bit of games out of first place. While the Cubs were playing great baseball in the month of June, so was everyone else. Despite their great play, the Cubs were in pretty much the same position they were in when June started as when the month ended. The chances of the Cubs continuing this magical run, even with Samardzija and Hammel, were very slim. While I love my Cubs, I did not see them as a realistic contender even with both pitchers still on the team.

Most fans though, are complaining about the return the Cubs got for both pitchers, specifically the lack of pitching coming back to the Cubs. Despite how hard Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer tried, they could not get the return they felt they should for either pitcher. No one was willing to put together a package that included top pitching prospects for either one of them, so the Cubs had to start looking elsewhere.

One reason the Cubs likely could not get a package of top pitching prospects back for either one, is that most teams see the Tampa Bay Rays as possibly trading David Price, so they want to save their best prospects or a potential trade for someone who is a better pitcher. They did not want to risk missing out on Price because they took Samardzija or Hammel.

Another reason the Cubs were not able to get a decent return of pitching is that a lot of the top pitching prospects around the game are either injured, or coming back from injury. While Theo likes gambling on injured pitchers who are highly thought of prospects, I do not think he was willing to make such a gamble for Samardzija, and may not of been offered one for Hammel.

So what did the Cubs do? They packaged the two pitchers together to get the best available prospect, Addison Russell. Am I upset that the Cubs traded away their two best pitchers without getting a stud top of the rotation pitching prospect in return? Not really. The Cubs are collecting as many of the best bats the minor league system has to offer as they can. While they need pitching, finding pitching has not been the issue, getting good bats to put in to the major league lineup has been. Anyone can find a pitcher in free agency, but a bat is something thy is rare to find nowadays with teams locking up all of their best hitters.

However, after watching what has happened the last three years, I have confidence that the Cubs will be okay in the pitching department going forward, even without a big name pitcher being added into the mix.

Looking over the past few pitching signings, the Cubs scouts headlines by Jason McLeod and Joe Bohringer have done a fantastic job scouting out pitchers to bring into the organization, and trusting their pitching coaches Chris Bosio and Lester Strode to work with them, turning them into serviceable pitchers for the team in order to flip them for quality prospects. You do not have to look far to find the hidden gems the scouts have found that Bosio and Strode rebuilt and helped resurrect their careers. Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman and now Hammel were middle of the road starters who under the guidance of Bosio and Strode had career years, rebuilding their confidence and value. All of them were signed to one year deals for that exact reason, to rebuild value and to flip.

http://galleries.apps.chicagotribune.com/chi-cubs-convention-2013-photos/
http://galleries.apps.chicagotribune.com/chi-cubs-convention-2013-photos/

The Cubs scouting department and pitching coaches have proven they can find pitchers in free agency and turn them into quality starters who have value. I have no doubts that this trend will continue. Even if the Cubs are unable to land one or more of the big free agent pitchers this coming offseason, I have confidence that they will be able to find another middle of the road starting pitcher who they can fix, though maybe this time keep.

While a James Shields, Justin Masterson, Max Scherzer or a Clay Buchholz would be a very nice add (and I fully believe the Cubs will be able to sign at least one), if they swing and miss at all of them, I have nothing but confidence they can work their magic again and find another hidden gem. Their track record is very good in that department, with the one black mark being Edwin Jackson who might be beyond repair.

You can also see the results of the pitchers already on the Major League roster with Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta. Both are pitching very well, meeting the expectations the Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles had for them, but were unable to bring the talent out of. Both have excelled here and could very well be here for an extended period of time. With the work they have done with all of these pitchers, I also have faith that they can bring the best out of newly acquired Dan Straily who has shown glimpses of brilliance, and was good enough to get fourth place in 2014 for rookie of the year. Though for that to take place, the Cubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator Derek Johnson will also have to work his magic.

Johnson has to be given some credit for Arrieta’s emergence just as Bosio and Strode get credit. He started the ball in motion, handing him off to the Major League coaches to round out the rough edges. As you can see, Arrieta had turned into a fantastic pitcher since joining the Cubs, reaching his potential, Straily is pretty much in the same boat as Arrieta, just needing someone to help him put everything together.

That brings us to Kyle Hendricks who has been confirmed to be on his way to Cincinnati to start against the Reds. He has been under the watchful eye of Johnson for a few years and has proven to be ready to pitch in the major leagues. He has earned this call up, and Johnson has deemed him ready. Otherwise, if Johnson had not given his stamp of approval, I do not think Epstein or Hoyer would have given the okay for him to be called up. Now he will be in the hands of Bosio and Strode who will polish him up and help him on the path to being a quality pitcher for the Cubs at least for the rest of this season, if not for years to come.

At the moment, the Cubs may give the impression that they are lacking the top of the rotation pitching you need to contend, that may not be the case. Again, look no further than Maholm, Feldman and Hammel for what this coaching staff can do with a pitcher. I remember fans complaining about the Cubs signing each and every one of them, then complaining when they were traded. If a pitcher has talent, and untapped talent at that, this coaching staff will find a way to bring out the best in every pitcher that crosses their path. I have no doubt that the coaching staff will get the very best out of Straily, Hendricks and every other pitcher in the system.

Will they all be super stars? No, some will fail to reach their potential at the Major League level. However I like the odds that they will continue to find these hidden gems and get the very best out of any pitcher who is put in their care.

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2 Replies to “The Cubs and Pitching”

  1. All the rationale makes sense, but I was certainly enjoying the last month, & looking forward to a continually improving seaon ending hopefully in a .500 or above record. I think management forgets about the here and now experience for the fan in constant pursuit of what might be a better day down the road. The value of the here and now experience for the people who pay the bills by following the team is disregarded.

    • The “here and now” is a mirage if you care about the long term health of the franchise. If you’re an optimist, long-term growth starts this offseason so you may not have too much longer to wait. The MLB team is being sacrificed in order to build up the foundation; they’re not disregarding anything per se.

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