Sep 10, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcherJoe Saunders
(23) pitches to the Houston Astros during the 1st inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Many Cubs fans are disheartened at what they perceive as another no-action offseason from the front office. Two story lines dominated Chicago media in the past six months – the Cubs’ reported pursuit of New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi (which ultimately failed) and their attempted wooing of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, which thanks to the Yankees, also failed.
If you take the outcome of just these two story lines, it would be easy to chalk up this offseason as a loss for the organization moving forward.
But, truth be told, that’s just not the case.
Chicago heads into 2014 with the fourth-overall draft pick this June, and based on most projections, could be looking at another top five pick in 2015. The biggest holes on the team, which I would categorize as pitching depth, relief corps help and outfield help.
Signing former Houston Astros Jose Veras to a deal is a major step forward in terms of solidifying the back-end of the bullpen after last year’s closer, Kevin Gregg, had things end on a sour note with the front office. Pedro Strop could also be in the mix, especially for an eighth inning role. The front office added more left-handed help in the form of Wesley Wright, which should help lessen the workload for southpaw James Russell.
In terms of starting pitching, the team recently wrapped up its last loose end, signing Jeff Samardzija to a one-year contract, thus avoiding going to an arbitration hearing that was slated for Monday. The team heads into camp with the addition of Jason Hammel, a low-risk, high-upside signing that adds depth to the rotation. He will join former Baltimore Orioles teammate Jake Arrieta at the back of the rotation. Arrieta joined the Cubs last season in the trade that sent Scott Feldman to Baltimore mid-season.
The signings of Justin Ruggiano and Ryan Sweeney give the Cubs several more deadline pieces that could be coupled and dealt for talent, especially with the likes of Jorge Soler and Albert Almora working their way through the Chicago system. Nate Schierholtz returns to the North Side, and should he replicate his 2013 production, he will also likely draw interest from contenders during the season.
In short, the Cubs are set up well for the long-haul. They have amassed solid players, although it seems they are still several major pieces from being a contender in 2014, many of whom can be traded throughout the season, similar to how the front office duo of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer has operated during their first few seasons in Chicago.
The club’s offseason only looks better when you look to the east and see the stagnant offseason the Baltimore Orioles have just experienced, despite being only a few pieces away from being a playoff contender in one of baseball’s toughest divisions – the American League East. After missing out on Bronson Arroyo, Matt Garza, Masahiro Tanaka and countless other pitching options, it’s hard to think this team will be any better in 2014.
The offense lacks a major power bat to provide protection for Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy. Nelson Cruz appeared to be the perfect fit moving forward, but all signs point toward the former Rangers outfielder staying in the AL West and joining Robinson Cano in Seattle. The latest rumors have connected Baltimore to Joe Saunders as a pitching target – a far cry from the likes of Arroyo, Cruz and the likes.
The long and short of it is simple. It’s easy to be frustrated with the Cubs’ lack of ‘major’ moves during this offseason, which is quickly drawing to a close. But the front office has remained dedicated to its plan of building a long-term winning team from the ground up. After inheriting a roster laden with poor contracts and a farm system near-void of any impact talent, another winter has brought the organization one step closer toward being an annual contender.