One of the strong points of the Chicago Cubs’ 25 man roster has been the team’s starting pitching rotation. The Cubs starting pitchers have been the reason why the Cubs have appeared to be relatively competitive to begin the 2012 season. Most of the thanks goes to Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, and Paul Maholm as of late. Ryan Dempster should also be included on that list, but the starter has missed his last two starts.
The reason the Cubs’ starting pitcher has been the most effective unit for the Cubs this season is because the rotation was made a priority by Cubs’ president Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer this past off-season. This past 0ff-season, the Cubs’ front office added three new starting pitchers that figure to play into the Cubs future planning. Both Maholm and former Marlin Chris Volstad are already a part of the Cubs’ starting rotation; former Cincinnati Red pitcher Travis Wood is currently pitching out of the Iowa Cubs’ rotation. Though, Wood figures to be a part of the Major League rotation at some point in the future.
The Cubs could be in a position to target starting pitchers once again next season. Maholm signed a one year contract with the Cubs in the off-season, however, the Cubs hold an option for Maholm to remain with the team for the 2013. Garza is still under the team’s control through the 2013 season. The Cubs figure to make a decision on Garza at some point this season in regards to deciding whether or not to trade or extend the starting pitcher. It would appear that the Cubs’ front office is leaning toward signing Garza to a long-term extension, but the idea of trading Garza for a haul of prospects has not been discarded. Dempster is in the final year of his contract and does not appear that the starting pitcher will return to the organization for the 2013 season. The Cubs could potentially enter the off-season with neither Garza nor Dempster being a part of their organization.
It stands to reason that the Cubs will at least monitor the starting pitching market next winter regardless of whether or not Dempster and/or Garza are a part of their organization. The top free agent starting pitcher is set to be Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies. Hamels and the Phillies have been in discussions about a possible extension, but neither side is overly optimistic that an agreement can be reached prior to Hamels reaching free agent market. If Hamels hits the open market, it would not be too surprising if most of the 30 Major League Baseball teams express interest in the starting pitcher.
The Cubs are going to have interest in Hamels. Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times reported over the weekend that the Cubs should not be ruled out as possible pursuers of Hamels. Hamels told the Sun Times that he would certainly be interested in signing with the Cubs if he was unable to return to the Phillies organization. Hamels’ interest in the Cubs is a large result of not only the renovations that were made to the personnel in the Cubs’ front office, but also to Wrigley Field as well.
There is certainly a lot of appeal to the Cubs pursuing Hamels. If Hamels wasn’t in the same league–let alone, same team–as Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, the 28 year-old pitcher would easily be considered one of–if not–the best pitcher in the National League. Last season, Hamels went 14-9 with the Phillies while having an ERA of 2.73. In four starts for the Phillies this season, Hamels is 3-1 with an ERA of 2.73 to go along with 30 strikeouts. With only 3 base on balls this season, Hamels is averaging 10 strikeouts for every base on balls he issues this season.
The Cubs’ pursuit of Hamels will likely be determined by how the team progresses throughout the 2012 season. If the Cubs reach the end of the season and the likes of Brett Jackson, Anthony Rizzo, and Welington Castillo to go along with the rest of the team are showing signs that they are ready to contend; then Hamels will be a likely target for a team trying to break down the barrier from being a rebuilding team to a contending team. However, if at the end of the season and the Cubs are do not appear ready to contend, Hamels may not fit into their plans. The Cubs’ fan base can only be patient for so long. Epstein and Hoyer may have to cave and target Hamels regardless if the Cubs are ready to contend or not.