Cubs betting heavily that arms can carry them to their next championship

Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

Theo Epstein, along with current Cubs president and then-GM Jed Hoyer, invested heavily in bats. Hoyer – and his new right-hand man Carter Hawkins – are investing heavily in arms to build ‘the next great Cubs’ team.’ Good luck with that.

A cautionary tale. Two decades ago, the Cubs starting rotation featured Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano. Many of us thought they would become the North Side’s iteration of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux (the guy former GM Larry Himes let walk) and John Smoltz. How’d that work out? Perhaps this is why the current regime drafted 15.5 of 20 pitchers recently. Maybe Nazier Mule will become our Shohei Ohtani. You can never have enough arms.

The last ‘great Cubs team’ did not boast a single pitcher they themselves drafted. The eleven pitchers all came via trade (Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Aroldis Chapman, Carl Edwards, Justin Grimm, Mike Montgomery, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Travis Wood all came from trades. Jason Hammel, the fifth starter who was not on the roster for the World Series, returned to the team via free agency. Jon Lester and John Lackey also came in as free agents. Lackey did not come to Chicago for a haircut, but both of these veterans win their third ring in 2016.

I have been very impressed by both Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson this season. Both are 27, and in their second years with the club, perhaps delayed by COVID in 2020. One must presume they will represent the new “core” comprised of quality pitchers. Both Kyle Hendricks (32) and Marcus Stroman (31) are under contract through next season with varying options for the next year.

The remaining staff, both at Wrigley and down on the farm can be divided into three categories: Young and promising, injured, and AAAA. I  have only mentioned starters, but some will undoubtedly be converted to the bullpen as was recently done to Iowa pitcher Cam Sanders (son of Scott Sanders who threw for Cubbies in 1999). In the pen, Brandon Hughes has been an effective rookie southpaw and will surely get a good long look next spring.

MLB Pipeline has thirteen arms listed in their recently-updated prospect rankings. Since I am naming this category ‘Young and Promising,’ and I think they have to be under 25 years of age. Here we have Caleb Killian #6- Triple-A (25), Jordan Wicks #7- Double-A (22), newly acquired pitchers Hayden Wesneski #8- Triple-A (24) and Ben Brown #11- Double-A (22). DJ Herz #10- Double-A (21) rests in between them. Five other prospects: Kohl Franklin, Ryan Jensen, Drew Gray (just 19), Daniel Palencia and Ben Leeper make the list. Luke Little is just 22 and the organization just recently named him July pitcher of the month.

Cubs have been decimated by injuries on the pitching staff in 2022

I feel like we need Dr. Frank Jobe (inventor of Tommy John surgery) or Dr. Gregory House for the next section. The Cubs currently have 10, hold up all your fingers, pitchers out with injury. I did not check if that is high, but after fifty years of fandom it sure seems high.

From the major league roster: Kyle Hendricks and Wade Miley have missed considerable time, and Alec Mills and Adbert Adzolay are potential swingmen on the shelf. Codi Heuer, Brad Wieck, Manny Rodriguez and Ethan Roberts had high expectations out of the bullpen. Brailyn Marquez hasn’t thrown in two years, and Steven Brault is on the COVID IL. Several of these could anchor a future championship-caliber bullpen.

Thirty-three players have pitched for the Cubs this year, including two position players. Adrian Sampson has been the most effective of the AAAA arms, pitching to a 3.40 ERA over the past two seasons. He deserves consideration for a spot looking forward. We have players active, injured, traded, released, and one is even now pitching in South Korea. There is certainly a foundation for a very strong staff in the future in what we all hope will be the ‘next great Cubs team’.

Next. Franmil Reyes continues to pound the ball with the Cubs. dark

My sincere hope is that something is done in the offseason and so on to reduce the injuries on this team. I know this is part of the game, but there seems to have been more than usual – perhaps because of a combination of the pandemic and last winter’s lockout. If the Cubs can stay healthy, there’s a lot of talent in the ranks when it comes to arms.