The Chicago Cubs have been oft-mentioned as one of the organizations that have significantly improved over the course of the offseason. By adding significant low-risk, high-upside arms to the rotation and bullpen, the team has addressed a weakness that plagued them over the course of the 2012 campaign, and should help increase competitiveness on the field in coming months.
The biggest signing of the offseason is right-hander Edwin Jackson, who continues his journeyman career after appearing with the White Sox, Cardinals and Nationals over the past few seasons. The 29-year old went 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA in 2012 with Washington, which was his highest mark since 2010, when he posted a 4.47 ERA, splitting the season between Arizona and Chicago.
His contract gives the Cubs four years of control for $40 million, which allows Chicago to remain competitive while avoiding the potential pitfalls of a high-risk, high-cost contract. Jackson is not expected to be an ace, but as the Cubs continue to add arms over the next couple years, he can be a solid 2 or 3 starter behind Matt Garza (if he lasts the season in a Cubs uniform), Jeff Samardzija and the “ace” that the team desperately needs to be a legitimate contender.
Aside from Samardzija, Garza and Jackson, Cubs fans have a lot to be excited about as Spring Training draws closer. The additions of Scott Baker and Scott Feldman gives Chicago a couple of key arms rounding out the rotation. Baker, 31, is coming off Tommy John surgery – which has led many to question his value entering this season. His last full season, 2011, was one of the best of Baker’s career. He went 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 21 starts. Opponents hit just .248 against him, which is just below his career average of .266.
Feldman, who spent his entire career with the Texas Rangers before signing a deal with Chicago this winter, struggled last year against the powerful American League West. The right-hander went 6-11 with a 5.09 ERA, and he allowed more than a hit per inning, giving up 139 hits in 123.2 innings pitched. However, he is only three years removed from a season that earned him the title of Rangers organization pitcher of the year, when he went 17-8 with a 4.08 ERA. He limited opponents to a .250 batting average, which was his best mark in a full season starting at the major league level.
After the Chris Volstad experiment failed miserably last season, one other returning starter gives the Cubs a strong, reliable left-handed option at the tail end of the rotation in the form of Travis Wood. The southpaw was a relative bright spot for Chicago in 2012, going 6-13 with a 4.22 ERA. At first glance, these numbers seem dismal, at best. However, once one considers the fact that Wood received lackluster run support and poor defense (which cost him several wins over the course of the year), these numbers are on-par with his career. Opponents hit just .232 against him, and although he was streaky for most of the season, the glimpses of his potential as a strong left-hander are something for both he and the organization to build upon.
The 2012 Cubs used 29 pitchers last season (30 if you count Joe Mather‘s appearance) – who combined to allow 759 runs over the course of the season. The team posted a 4.51 ERA, and often resorted to calling up young pitchers from West Tennessee and Iowa in order to fill rotation spots on a regular basis. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have worked to address this pitfall of last year’s team, but only time will tell how competitive, and healthy, this squad will be.