Amid connections to the Indians for Carlos Carrasco (who has a 3.1 fWAR, 8th in the AL among starting pitchers), to the Padres for Tyson Ross (2.7 fWAR) and Craig Kimbrel (1.0 fWAR), among other or a late rumbling about being in talks with the Dodgers for Alex Wood (just acquired from the Braves and is only 24), the Cubs settled on two unspectacular moves that merely make them better.
The Cubs get the nearly 35 year old Dan Haren to fill in the back end of the rotation. This is what Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer told us they were going to seek…starting pitching. For Haren, it is an opportunity to chase a playoff spot in what may be his final major league season. For the Cubs, they get someone to pitch every fifth day with some level of consistency. After Travis Wood, Tsuyoshi Wada, Clayton Richard, Dallas Beeler, and Donn Roach have all gotten opportunities to make starts in that spot, Haren should give the team some stability and throw deeper than 5 innings into the game. While the current version of Dan Haren is not the 5 to 6 win version he was with the Diamondbacks or Angels, he is still reliable. He comes to the Cubs with a 3.42 ERA/4.57 FIP/ 4.55 xFIP and 0.5 fWAR. Over the course of this season, he has been a fly ball pitcher, with a 49.1% fly ball rate. That metric has worked out well for him pitching in Marlins Park, but away from there, teams have slugged .473 against him, vs .396 in Miami. After an effort to acquire Haren for Carlos Marmol did not come to fruition in late 2012, the Cubs finally added Haren…this time, being sufficiently satisfied with his medical reports.
The players going to the Marlins organization are a couple of Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects who were not anywhere close to being considered “top prospects” in the organization. After a season of injuries, Pineyro has had a solid, but unspectacular, 2015 season. He had a 3.69 ERA and 3.24 FIP in 19 starts with the Tennessee Smokies at AA through 107.1 innings. Acquired in 2013 for Scott Hairston, Pineyro projects as a back end starter or a reliever.
Elliot Soto is a middle infielder in a middle infield rich organization. He is regarded by some as, possibly, the best defensive infielder in the organization. As a hitter, he leaves something to be desired, though. His 2015 numbers have been a pleasant surprise, as he leaves the Cubs with a .275/.388/.314 slash line, with a 14.8% walk rate and a 15.6% strike out rate…both very good. Soto could find himself as a late innings defensive replacement and utility infielder at the MLB level. With the Cubs, though, there was simply no room left for the 2010 15th round draft pick.
With both players that were sent to Miami being Rule 5 eligible, and Pineyro being a real possible Rule 5 pick, the Cubs did well to make this move and fill the most pressing need on the MLB roster. Haren should capably fill that role and, in turn, improve the entire pitching staff. The innings he is able to provide should keep the bullpen from having to pitch a minimum of 4 innings each time that spot in the rotation comes up. He’s not as sexy an addition as he would have been 5 years ago, but Haren fits and costs very little in terms of money or prospects.
Tommy Hunter comes to the Cubs after appearing in 39 games (44.2 IP) with the Baltimore Orioles this season. For the most part, Hunter has been a solid reliever in his time in the major leagues, aside from 2009, where he made 19 starts with the Texas Rangers. He comes to Chicago with a 3.63 ERA/ 3.32 FIP/ 3.93 xFIP. He provides depth to a bullpen that has been stretched by inconsistent innings from the bottom of the rotation on top of playing in more close games. The downside is that Hunter has allowed 11 of 28 inherited runners to score (39%). He does not come to be a high leverage reliever, necessarily, though, and as a depth option, is a nice addition.
Headed out is the ultra talented, yet still raw Junior Lake. He is only 25 years old, so to say he will never meet his potential would be a bit hyperbolic, but it was becoming more and more clear that the chance to do so with the Cubs was becoming less realistic. Going to Baltimore offers him a change of scenery that may jump start his career. To his credit, he has looked like a much more disciplined hitter in 2015. His 6.5% walk rate in MLB is not inspiring, but it is much better than any mark he’d posted in the major leagues before. He’s also walked at a 13.0% clip with Iowa, while bringing his strike outs down to about 23% while hitting .315/.404/.472 overall in AAA.
Generally speaking, the additions of Dan Haren and Tommy Hunter make this current Cubs team better in 2015, without doing any damage to their opportunity to play in the upcoming free agent class or to make significant trades using high profile prospects later on. It’s been known for a while that the Cubs were not going all in on 2015, so adding a pair of rentals who improve the depth of the pitching staff in the interim makes complete sense, even if they were not the mega-deals being thrown around Twitter.