One area of concern for the new general manager heading into the off-season is how are the Cubs going to improve their pitching staff for the 2012 season. More specifically, what is the Cubs’s 2012 starting rotation going to look like.
For anyone that may have been too quick to judge Matt Garza for his early season struggles, Garza’s production this season has been enough to earn him the label as the team’s ace heading into the 2012 season. Ryan Dempster, who does have a small window to opt out of his contract in October, will likely return next season and give the Cubs a formidable pair of pitchers at the top of their rotation. The three, four, and five spots in the Cubs’ rotation is where the intrigue begins to creep in. Randy Wells has struggled throughout the entire season, but with Wells going 5-0 over his last seven starts with an ERA of 2.70 it is safe to say that the–at times inconsistent–pitcher will be in contention for a rotation spot in the 2012. Carlos Zambrano is likely to be traded at some point this winter, meaning the Cubs will have two openings in their starting rotation. Casey Coleman has filled in for the suspended Zambrano, but Coleman has yet to solidify himself into the Cubs’ 2012 plans.
In 17 appearances this season–15 of which were starts–Coleman has a record of 2-8 with an ERA of 7.06. At 24, Coleman still has most of his baseball career ahead of him, though, his opportunity with the Cubs may be running. Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago, and Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times appear to be on the same track again as they both suggest that Coleman could severely limiting his opportunity with the Cubs in 2012 by the way that he has struggled this season. Levine notes that given the regressing seasons that Coleman, as well as Trey McNutt and Jay Jackson have had the new general manager will be tasked with acquiring young pitching talent from other organizations.
Acquiring a young starting pitcher from another organization is no easy task. Though with the free agent starting pitching market as thin as it is, the Cubs will likely go the trade route to improve their starting rotation. The two names that Levine has been consistent in reporting are John Danks of the Chicago White Sox, and J.A. Happ of the Houston Astros. Though both names appear to be speculation, it is not out of the realm of possibility that either pitcher could end up on the trading block this winter. Though, the new general manager would have to be willing to give up a couple of the upper-level prospects in the organization. This may sound crazy, but could the next general manager dangle Brett Jackson in front of the Astros or White Sox as part of a package to get Happ or Danks. Do I think the Cubs should trade Jackson? No. But with Matt Szczur quickly rising through the farm system, it is not impossible to think that Jackson could be dangled in package in order to land a premier starting pitcher.
Meanwhile, Wittenmyer suggests that the final two starts for Coleman this season will likely go a long way in determining Coleman’s status in the 2012 season. Coleman has had more than enough time this season to prove that he is worthy of a rotation spot in 2012, but the fact remains that the pitcher has struggled in almost every one of his starts this season.
But regardless of what happens to Coleman next season, the Cubs are going to have to at least make the effort to improve the rotation heading into the 2012 season. There is a strong chance that improvement could come from within the organization. McNutt likely will not be ready by opening day 2012, but Jay Jackson could be. The Cubs were hoping that both McNutt and Jackson would have been embedded into their rotation by now, but both pitchers have struggled in the minors this season. McNutt has been struck with the injury bug this season, but when he has been on the mound he has not been too effective. McNutt had a 5-6 record for the Smokies during the regular season to go along with an ERA of 4.55. Meanwhile, Jackson was 8-14 this season with the Iowa Cubs to go along with an ERA of 5.34. The Cubs do have quality pitching prospects, the issue is that most of them are currently in the lower-levels of the organization.