Chicago Cubs: Pitching needs will trump all else this winter

(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports) /

After jettisoning Yu Darvish last offseason, we knew the Chicago Cubs faced an uphill battle in fielding a competitive starting rotation. The late winter addition of Jake Arrieta was a total disaster and Zach Davies, who came over in the Darvish trade, failed to provide much in terms of value and the results speak for themselves.

Chicago starting pitchers finished the season with a 5.27 ERA – the second-worst mark in the National League – and failed to record even a single quality start. The Cubs walked the fourth-most batters among all 30 big league teams and even their longstanding ace, Kyle Hendricks, looked like a shell of his former self this year.

Arrieta was designated for assignment and Davies is now a free agent – one who’s unlikely to be brought back into the fold after struggling a great deal in 2021. Hendricks’ deal runs through 2023, so he’ll be back again next spring as a clear veteran presence who needs to re-establish himself quickly.

Behind Hendricks, though, it’s a collection of young, largely unproven arms – including Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Kohl Stewart and Adbert Alzolay. There’s potential in that group, sure, but it’s clear Chicago needs to make substantive changes when it comes to the pitching staff this offseason.

"“There’s no question that we have to acquire more pitching, better pitching,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said last week. “I think that’ll be the No. 1 priority, because that, said simply, was the downfall of this season.”"

The bargain bin shopping late in the year, which including Arrieta, Eric Sogard and Joc Pederson, didn’t pan out all that well. With the team’s admitted financial flexibility this winter – something they claimed to have lacked last offseason – things should be different this time around. In other words, Hoyer and the front office will be able to add more in the form of proven commodities.

Chicago Cubs unlikely to go after the blue-chip free agents this offseason

But does that mean Chicago has Max Scherzer in its sights? Probably not. Although there are dollars to spend, Hoyer is focused on maintaining that payroll flexibility and avoiding long-term deals that could handcuff the team down the road.

"“We’re certainly going to be active,” Hoyer said. “But I think we need to be active in a way that we feel like we’re getting the right value for the dollars we’re spending, and we’re also making sure we’re not hindering ourselves going forward.”"

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All this to say, it’s a safe bet the Cubs’ starting rotation looks wildly different when the team breaks camp next spring. There will be some familiar faces battling for spots in spring training – but an infusion of new blood is a ‘must’.