As Cubs fans await the disaster that will be the 2014 season featuring a Donnie Murphy/Luis Valbuena platoon, and a non-existent-bat 2nd baseman, what fans worldwide want more than anything is improvement at the major league level. Luckily for the Cubs, we know that Theo & Jed ARE indeed scanning the market for starting pitching, which will help the team out quite a bit. What we don`t know however, is what level of pitching are Theo & Jed willing to go to?
We already know low-level, mediocre pitching is most likely what they`re willing to do, but Cub fans who actually want some Major League improvement can weigh the options of a Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, or Bronson Arroyo signing to help anchor the rotation for a 162 game season and beyond. All the pitchers on the market including these 5 guys have pros (the good) and cons (the bad) in their respective situation.
The Big Boys
The Pros: Santana, 31, is a very durable pitcher. He tossed 211 innings in 2013, his lowest inning total the past 8 years was 139 in 2007, and has thrown 200+ innings 5 out of the last 8 years. You can count on him to pitch every 5 days over the course of a long a tiring season. Santana also came back after a rough 2012 season to pitch to a very respectable 3.24 E.R.A (which would have been 2nd in the Cub rotation) last season and dropped his BB/9 rate all the way to 2.2. His K/9 rate also dropped to the sixes, but that shows Santana has learned to command his pitches and not try to blow everyone away. Obviously Ervin Santana would be a great pickup for Chicago, and would improve the Major League team immediately. (Also, Chris Cotillo wrote about the Santana sweepstakes right here, including that the Cubs have indeed inquired on Ervin.)
The Cons: As with any pitcher, there are risks with Santana. Consistency is a big one as Ervin is just 2 seasons removed from posting a 5.16 E.R.A, 3.1 BB/9 rate, and an inflated 2.0 HR/9 as in 2012. You always have to remember the consistency here. Another concern for the Cubs is obviously the asking price. It was reported a while ago that the righty was asking for around 5/90$ which is absurd. Hopefully the Matt Garza deal, which was just 4/52$ for a SP without a draft pick, lowers Santana`s price to a reasonable level for the Cubs to jump. Hey, and don`t forget, he is 31 years old. If you have Santana a 4 year deal you have to take into account you`ll still be paying that price when he`s 34 and 35. I don`t care how durable you are that is always a risky situation. The last con I can think of is the draft pick compensation, but to me I don`t believe that should be heavily weighted as the Cubs do have their 1st round pick protected.
The Pros: Out of all the starters left, Ubaldo Jimenez does have the most upside. Last year was his very best with Cleveland, leading the Tribe to the postseason with a 3.30 E.R.A in 182.2 innings. Jimenez showed his incredible stuff striking out nearly 10 guys per 9 innings and really seemed to learn how to adjust to a drop in velocity; he`s not just trying to blow everyone away anymore. He`s walking less batters, showed by is BB/9 dropping from 4.8 in 2012 to 3.9 in 2013. Overall, Ubaldo comes with high risk, but still at just 29, the Cubs could hand him a 4 year deal and take a gamble on his great upside. Like Santana, Jimenez also stays on the field. He usually hovers around that 180-200 inning type, occasionally falling into the 170s and would present a clear upgrade of the MLB club.
The Cons: As mentioned before, this player comes with very high risk, more than Santana in fact. Yes, Jimenez seemed to turn a corner in 2013. But if you look back before ’13, Ubaldo hadn`t posted an E.R.A under 4.68 since 2010 when he was an ace for the Rockies. His walk rate is a huge risk as we`ve seen it shoot all the way up to 4.7 and 4.8. Just like Santana, he is also connected to that pick. All in all, that lack of consistency in recent years frightens me the most as you don`t know when the wheels could fall off and then you`re stuck with a pricey burden.
The Pros: Even more so than Santana and Jimenez, Arroyo is incredibly durable. Bronson has thrown at least 200 innings every season since 2005. That is insane. The thing that separates Arroyo from Jimenez is his consistency. When Jimenez is posting E.R.As in the 5s, Arroyo is out there in the sub-4s practically every year, occasionally dipping into the low 4s but still, you know what you`re going to get with him. Also: no draft pick comp! He would be a fantastic leader in the Cubs` clubhouse and even more so with all the young pitchers on the North Side.
The Cons: This is a hard one for me. What cons could you think of for a guy who literally throws 200 innings every season with an E.R.A in the high 3s? Well, if i have to, Arroyo seems to be demanding a lot from his next team and he`s getting up there in age at 37. All winter it`s been said Bronson is looking for a 3 year deal, and for a 37 year old that`s a tall order. But, if you`re a team like the Orioles, i don`t see why you don`t take a gamble on a guy who has been the picture of health and consistency. We`ll see with Arroyo, but he doesn`t seem to want to go to a non-contender. If you`re 37, would you rather go to the Cubs, or a team like L.A?
The “Bargain Bin” Pitchers
The Pros: If you look back to 2 seasons ago, 2012, Jason Hammel led his O`s to the postseason with a 3.43 E.R.A in just about 120 frames. That`s a very solid campaign, not to mention his struck out nearly 9 guys per 9 innings. After a down year last season, the Cubs could pick him up cheap and hope Hammel finds comfort in the Friendly Confines, and tosses around-4 E.R.A ball. Little risk, with a reward of a solid back of the rotation guy for a year.
The Cons: You`re going to find out i don`t care much for Jason Hammel, as last season he regressed enormously to about a 5 E.R.A, dropping his K/9 over 2 points and showing the baseball world what kind of pitcher he really is. Before his probable fluke 2012 season Hammel had pitched to a 4.63 E.R.A in 3 years for Colorado, and almost a 6 E.R.A in 3 years for Tampa Bay. Picking up Hammel would not improve the big league club, and would invite sarcastic world series comments from other fans.
The Pros: If the Cubs really don`t have the cash for Jimenez or Santana, you are hoping they pick up Maholm more than Jason Hammel. After posting a solid 3.66 E.R.A in 2011 and 2012, Maholm also regressed in 2013 (but not as bad as Hammel) to the tune of a 4.41 E.R.A, but Paul still threw about 155 innings. Just like Hammel, Maholm would be cheap, anchor that back of the rotation, and probably pitch to around a 4.00 E.R.A. That`s not terrible if Theo & Jed don`t acquire any bigger name pitchersttr
The Cons: Just as you could be hopeful Maholm can turn it around from last year and lower that E.R.A, you could also point out that Maholm regressed quite a bit and isn`t as good as he used to be. It`s a fair question, as even his K rate fell and BB rate rose (just slightly) and he really pooped out there after a great start to the year. Adding Maholm would not improve the team greatly, and I almost would rather have Chris Rusin show us what he can do over a full season.
So, what looks most attractive here? Ervin Santana at a lower price? Jimenez`s upside? Maholm`s cheap addition? Feel Free to follow me on the Twitterverse @GarrettFilson and definitely drop a comment as to what makes the most sense for the Cubs, or what improves the Major League team the most in 2014, as without any additions Cub fans will very likely have to watch yet another season of 95-100 loss baseball, more promises and more “patience”.