Cubs’ Taste For Damaged Goods Too Much Of A Gamble?


Do you feel lucky? Well… do ya, punk?

Ask Theo Epstein this question and he’d look Clint Eastwood dead in his eyes and say: yes.

The Cubs of 2013 either know no fear in the eyes of fate or are cold, calculated tacticians considering their recent flurry of signings complimented with today’s announcement of a deal with Korean reliever Chang-Yong Lim.

Lim falls in to a rather populated category of new Cubs who are recovering from Tommy John surgery. This list includes:

Considering the nature of each signing, it’s all very unnerving. Baker will likely be a regular starter in the Cubs’ 2013 rotation and Vizcaino could be considered one of the best pitching prospects the Cubs currently posses in their system. Both of these relatively important roles are being trusted to guys who have had surgery directly related to their performing arms.

That’s a lot of pressure.

Starting to sweat yet? It’s hard not too. All of these pitchers are just one miss-throw away from a complete career-ending arm blowout

Epstein, forever the “cool as a cucumber” type, isn’t worried:

"You don’t set out looking for Tommy John guys. The reality is it’s not exactly a buyer’s market for pitching so you have to take your risks. Do you want to take a risk on a guy with bad makeup? Do you want to take a risk on a guy with bad command? Or, do you want to take the risk on a guy you really believe in who is coming off Tommy John surgery and has appropriate value points? I think we’re very comfortable placing our bets"

Take faith in the fact that TJ surgery is now one of the predictable rehab processes in the entire sporting world. Almost 95% of those subject to the procedure make a full recovery and maintain their previous level of on-field performance. If it’s shoulder surgery? You can bet Epstein would not be laying his neck on the line making these types of signings. He was quoted saying:

"If you have to sign a pitcher who is coming off surgery, Tommy John is the one you want him to come off."

For instance, Lim is a bit more of a gamble considering the recent nature of his surgery and his tendency to throw “side arm”. Side arm throwers are subject to these injuries on a more frequent basis because of the mechanics associated with the delivery and sharp whipping action of the arm. He’s also unavailable to play for an additional 2 years because of his rehab efforts. It is a concern for the front office, but the Cubs are being smart about their handling of their new damaged goods.

Oct 25, 2011; Chicago, IL, USA; General view of the exterior of Wrigley Field after a press conference announcing Chicago Cubs new president of baseball operations Theo Epstein (not pictured). Mandatory Credit: Tommy Giglio-USA TODAY Sports

Lim, who is arguably the most likely to suffer an arm blowout, has only been inked to a split minor league deal with a signing bonus of $100K in order to keep him interested. He’ll kick back and enjoy collecting a minor league minimum salary while rehabing. Seems irrational right? The logic and subtlety is in the current market rate. For example,  Mike Adams has agreed to a 2 year/$12 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies just recently. This is a clear indication of the pitching market’s inflation and taking a chance on a Korean who was nicknamed “mister zero” in his 4 years of closing experience at a fraction of the price seems like a great idea.

The focus on the future is clear. Keep in mind, this isn’t Epstein’s first rodeo. Considering all of the previous moves and rehauling of the farm system, Epstein doesn’t make a deal unless he can see at least some value in it.

You can take solace in knowing that rolling the dice with injured players won’t be the demise of the North Siders.