What They Need, What They Have: Pitching

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On Tuesday the Cubs begin the process of getting this team back into contention. Really, it should not be that hard considering they are only one year removed from a decent season and played good baseball after a manger change this past summer. At most positions the Cubs are pretty well set.

There are a few exceptions. So this week I’m going to take a break from the Arizona Fall League player reports and look at three areas the Cubs might want to address this offseason and who they have in the minors that could step in and help out. Today, I’ll look at starting pitching.

First of all, whether or not the Cubs need to improve their starting pitching is highly debateable. The Cubs were fourth in National League in Team ERA after September 1. That was despite being second in walks allowed and only tenth in strike outs. But if we look at the entire season, the Cubs are only 13th in ERA, but fourth in strike outs and led the league in walks allowed. Clearly, we have a tale of two seasons, the Pinella season and the Quade season. Which set of numbers truley reflects the Cubs?

If you think the season numbers are accurate, then you are probably desperate to bring in starting pitching… any starting pitching. Throwing a mountain of cash at Cliff Lee isn’t just an idea, its an absolute necessity if the Cubs are to have a chance of competing. Trading for a starter or four probably sounds like a good idea as well.

Meanwhile, if you buy into the idea that the Quade-Cubs are a better example of how this team should really be performing, you probably aren’t as worried. You probably consider the Cubs to be one or two bats away from fighting for the Wild Card and maybe the division title. Starting pitching? That’s the team’s strength. Nothing to worry about.

Either way, it never hurts to improve the starting pitching when improvements are waiting in the minor leagues. And at the very least, there are some guys in the Cubs minor league system who can make spring training very interesting. In particular, keep an eye on Jay Jackson, Chris Carpenter, and Chris Archer. And while we’re at it, don’t forget about Jeff Samardzija, Casey Coleman, or Thomas Diamond. It is the trio of Archer, Jackson, and Carpenter, however, that could allow the Cubs management to decide to forget all about free agent starters this winter.

All three of these guys have seen success at Double A or higher, all three project to be major league pitchers in one form or another sometime in the next two years, and all three have the potential to steal a slot in the Cubs 2011 major league rotation with a good spring. I don’t want to give the idea that any of these three will be better than Cliff Lee is today, but it would not surprise me at all to see any one of these three turn into a front of the rotation starter in a year or two. Hayden Simpson could sneak into this conversation as well, but we should probably see him pitch professionally before we make that call.

So which will it be? Do the Cubs sign some starting pitching and effectively block their stable of promising starters? Or do the Cubs decide to sit tight and let the organization improve from within? This may well be the $60 million dollar question, and the answer could define the rest of the off season for the Chicago Cubs.