Now that the CBA has been buttoned up, it’s time to move on to what is perhaps the most fun and exciting portion the non-baseball-playing calendar: the Winter Meetings. Even as temperatures are dropping, the river of transactions is now starting to thaw in earnest. It’ll soon grow to a flood of activity on which we can surf all the way to Spring Training.
As the Cubs are concerned, that means pitching, and lots of it. Whether it’s restocking a bullpen that looked a little bedraggled by the end of the playoffs and is likely to lose a few key members or shoring up a rotation that is long in the tooth and short on club control, the front office has got a lot of work to do.
“[We’re] trying to identify those kind of starting pitchers and those kind of relief pitchers and how to match up with them,” Jed Hoyer said of the Cubs’ offseason plans. “It’s definitely not going to be through lack of trying on our part to make that kind of deal. That’s now. That’s at the deadline.”
One of the hallmarks of the organizational rebuild that began five years ago was the accumulation of young hitters, with arms seemingly an afterthought. In fact, that was the cause of a bit of strife between myself and a professor-cum-sportswriter who offered up a hot take about how the strategy was flawed. My issue wasn’t with the stance that the Cubs needed pitching help, but with the idea that they weren’t aware of it.
Heck, they just won the World Series in large part because of the pitching they were able to acquire, yet they’re still facing an organizational deficit. And they’ve acknowledged as much publicly.
“We do have an imbalance in our organization — hitting versus pitching,” Hoyer admitted. “And we’re trying to make sure we can accumulate as much pitching depth as possible.”
Outside of a DL stint for John Lackey and the occasional off-days for other members, the starting rotation was remarkably healthy in 2016. The bullpen took its share of hits, notably in the form of late-season injuries to Hector Rondo and Pedro Strop, but the overall health of the pitching staff remained a strength. While it goes without saying that you can’t take that for granted, Hoyer went ahead and said it anyway.
“We were very healthy this year, which was wonderful and a big part of why we won the World Series. I don’t think you can always count on that kind of health every single year. Building up a reservoir of depth, preferably guys you can option, is something (we’re trying) to accomplish.”
That last little note is telling and is a big part of what helped down the stretch last season. Justin Grimm was perhaps the most notable member of the staff to yo-yo between Iowa and Chicago, but the Cubs were very active when it came to shuttling guys back and forth in order to fill out the roster and leverage various situational advantages. They’ll need to do more of the same in 2017, which means loading up on young, cheap arms.
Hoyer has already gone on record as saying they’d be active in the market for bargain-bin reclamation projects and cast-offs, though he may not have used those exact terms. That’s why, despite the results they got from Aroldis Chapman, the Cubs aren’t going to be handing him a monster contract. The same is probably true for Kenley Jansen. Even lower-tier relievers may be too costly, as we saw with Brett Cecil.
I’m sure they’re open to bringing Travis Wood back at the right price, though he might be looking for an opportunity to start. Or just start fresh. Then you’ve got Mike Montgomery, who looks to be the clubhouse leader for the rotation spot vacated by Jason Hammel. So the Cubs are going to be targeting at least one lefty replacement, maybe someone like Boone Logan.
As we saw in Hoyer’s comments, though, it’s not enough to simply fill in spots on the 25-man roster. The Cubs will need to develop significant depth to carry them through this season and beyond. And with Lackey and Jake Arrieta likely gone after 2017, that could mean targeting young, controlled started via trade. I wrote recently that the Cubs covet Japanese phenom Shohei Otani as a possible rotation mainstay, but the uncertainty of his arrival makes the pursuit of a starter this offseason even more likely.
“We’re going to still continue to look to improve the depth in our bullpen, improve the depth in our starting rotation,” Hoyer said with his typical transparency.
As for the who, how, and when, we may need to wait a while. We know the what and the why, though, and that should make for a lot of action in the coming days and weeks.
Read more from Patrick Mooney regarding what Hoyer and Theo Epstein had to say about the Cubs’ pursuit of pitching here.