The Cubs Aren’t Swinging and Missing, They’re Waiting For Their Pitch(ers)

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
and Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped–
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
and it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
he stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
he signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
but Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
but one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
and they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
he pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
and now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
but there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

-Excerpted from Ernest Thayer’s Casey at the Bat

Jordan Zimmermann signed in Detroit for $110 million, David Price got almost double that in Boston, and Zack Greinke is said to be staying out West for less time and more AAV than Price. Johnny Cueto has gotten offers, at least one of which he’s already turned down, but it doesn’t sound as though the Cubs are in pursuit. And now there is talk that Jeff Samardzija has received a $100 million offer from a mystery team to be named later, or not at all.

Without going too far down a rabbit trail here, I just have to say that I’m astounded by that (imaginary?) offer. If he’s really got a nine-figure deal on the table, he’d better sign it now. If I’m a GM, I’m calling that bluff all day. Maybe Shark and his reps are going full Rounders here, reenacting the scene in which Mike McDermott stared down Johnny Chan and won. That, or this thing is legit. Or maybe some exec is just hitting the bottle. And if he isn’t already, he’s going to be after looking back on this deal in a few years. Anywho, back to the lecture at hand.

Other than Theo Epstein having a beer with Shark, not to mention talk of their possible desire for a potential reunion, the Cubs really haven’t been seriously involved with any of these guys. From the start, almost everyone realized that the Red Sox were going to trump the rest of the market for Price. And at $31 million AAV, I don’t blame the Cubs one bit for staying away. Zimmermann’s deal was much more palatable, but the speed with which the deal was consummated tells us he and the Tigers had eyes for each other from the jump. But does that mean they’re missing out on them? Hardly.

There is a big difference between swinging and missing and simply watching undesirable pitches go by, and the Cubs are doing the latter. Of course, you can still end up like Mighty Casey if you keep the bat on your shoulder for hittable pitches. I don’t care how good you are, it’s not as easy to hit in a two-strike count. Ask anyone about Epstoyer’s biggest misstep and you’re sure to hear Edwin Jackson’s name. Having missed on Anibal Sanchez, the Cubs front office gave E-Jax a 4-year deal worth $52 million and began regretting it almost immediately. Never mind that the deal was roundly viewed as being pretty reasonable at the time, it just never worked out.

Nearly three years later, the Cubs are once again forced to shop in the picked-through aisles of free-agent pitching. Please understand that I’m not bashing either the front office or the process…yet. I mean, I’m one of the Theobots sitting front-row-center while his boy band coos sappy ballads. I’m also an unrepentant Jedophile. But I want to acknowledge the reality of the situation, which is that there may not necessarily be a perfect fit here, just as there may not be a perfect pitch to hit.

And then you’ve got to consider that this isn’t all taking place in a vacuum either, that the players in question don’t simply slap a price tag to their chest and walk around. And just like a player who’s sitting dead red can be absolutely frozen by a nasty curve or slider, a player you’ve set your sights on can be swept away by an offer you never saw coming. Like in the case of that deal for Samardzija, the veracity of which I’m still having an internal debate about. So what am I even saying here?

I DON’T KNOW! By the logic I’ve established, you may need to overpay in order to lock someone up. But if you’ve been patient up to this point and then end up making a defensive swing at a bad pitch, you may end up with awful contact. Or contract, as it were. No matter what, though, the one thing you can’t do is go up there without a plan. You can’t go up just sitting on a center-cut cement mixer or worse, just hacking and hoping for a ball to meet the plane of your swing.

And to that end, the Cubs are not guessing. They’ve got a plan and they’re not willing to deviate from it just to meet a need. I love that. You know what helps with that? Status. This isn’t the steaming pile of pony loaf Epstein and Hoyer were forced to shovel a few years ago. This is a 97-win team with talent for days, a well-respected manager, and fans willing to drink beer spiked with baseball and steal foul pops from Adrian Gonzalez while holding their bottle-feeding babies. What’s not to love?

Seriously though, this isn’t an organization that needs to beg free agents give up a year or two in the hopes that they’d eventually be flipped to a team with a chance. These new Cubs are going to win some games and they’re going to have hella fun doing it, so guys should actually want to come and play in Chicago. They’re not going to do it for free though, so there’s still a little bit of effort involved.

I don’t know who the Cubs will end up with, though I still believe they end up acquiring two starting pitchers one way or another. My long, drawn-out point here is that what we’re seeing right now is all part of the process. It’s not always easy to watch your best hitter take a couple close ones, but is there anyone else you’d rather have with the bat in his hands at this point?

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