Yu Darvish mania notwithstanding; even if Carlos Zambrano shows up to Spring Training minus his infamous petulance, or Ryan Dempster has one more good “contract year” left in him, or if Randy Wells finds consistency (preferably not consistently awful) on the mound – Matt Garza needs help in the rotation. Still early in the off-season, the market is flush with starters of all shapes and sizes. Would any of them be a good fit for the Cubs? An important piece of the process would be to focus guys who have had at least some success at Wrigley Field, within the NL Central, or both.
Livan Hernandez – there are some obvious drawbacks to signing the aging Cuban. First of all, he’s probably much closer to 40 than anyone will ever know. And his stats are trending towards uselessness. But he’s still better than say, Casey Coleman, and as a fifth starter would suck up at least 175 innings (as he’s done in every single year of his career). Not terrible. Plus his numbers at Wrigley Field are stellar. He’d probably only require a one-year deal and last year he signed for a mere $1.25mil.
Zach Duke – different drawbacks here. He’s battled injuries and ineffectiveness off and on for several seasons even finally being relegated to the bullpen for the Diamondbacks last year. Yet, his numbers at Wrigley Field are pretty good and he’s left-handed. He’s only 28 and his career so far hasn’t been much different from the early years of former Cub, Ted Lilly. Last year Duke signed a one year deal worth $3.5mil – hardly breaking the bank for a back of the rotation lefty.
Hiroki Kuroda – perhaps the second best free agent pitcher remaining on the market (behind Roy Oswalt). His experience at Wrigley is incredibly limited, but he has good numbers in a couple of starts. And his numbers against NL Central foes are all very good. He’s going to get multiple years north of $10mil/year from someone. There are enough risks that I won’t be sad if the Cubs pass on him; but If the Cubs are interested in one of the “big” names left on the market, I hope it’s Kuroda. Plus, in the event that Zambrano screws up again, it’d be nice to have something more than Garza and Dempster to rely on.
There are other options, former Cubs Jamie Moyer, Rich Harden, Sergio Mitre, Doug Davis, Rodrigo Lopez, and Jason Marquis are all free agents. I hope we sign none of those guys. Oswalt’s numbers at Wrigley are terrible; that’s enough to rule him out for me. I fear that Edwin Jackson and Joel Piniero are products of Dave Duncan, I’d steer clear of their soon-to-derail careers as well. Kevin Millwood and Chris Young will probably get more than they are worth. The rest of list is loaded with misfits and has-beens; guys with no control or not much left in the tank – guys like Duke or Hernandez.
A rotation of Garza, Kuroda, Zambrano, Dempster, and Wells seems like it could actually do some things in the depleted NL Central. If you don’t fancy Kuroda (or if you still want to unload one of the other four), Hernandez or Duke would remain as a low-cost alternative. How do you want Epstein and Hoyer to round out the rotation?