View From The Bleachers

December 25, 2012

The Rotation Might be Different, but the Plan Looks the Same

Filed under: Featured,General — Noah Eisner @ 2:00 pm

The Cubs have been very busy in the free agent pitching market this offseason. They started by adding starting pitchers Scott Baker and Scott Feldman in November, followed by signing  Japanese relief pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa. The Cubs likely ended their major offseason pitching acquisitions last week, signing starter Edwin Jackson and swingman Carlos Villanueva to four and two year contracts respectively.

Of the group, Jackson was the only surprise, due to the longer commitment and $52 million total price tag.  But a lot people are talking about this added pitching depth as though the Cubs had no plan for this last year, and that the plan has significantly changed heading into this season.  I don’t think that’s correct.

The argument heading into 2012 was that the Cubs had 7 Major League quality starting pitchers: Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Chris Volstad, Jeff Samardzija, Randy Wells and Travis Wood. There were of course question marks, particularly in the forms of Volstad and Samardzija. While Volstad could not have been more disappointing, Samardzija exceeded even the most bullish expectations. However, Volstad’s failure combined with Randy Wells’ ineffectiveness due to decreased velocity actually left the Cubs with only 5 legitimate, MLB caliber starters. Then the Cubs traded Maholm and Dempster, Garza went on the DL, and Samardzija hit his innings limit, leaving the Cubs to trot out the likes of Chris Rusin and Justin Germano for a large percentage of their final 60 games or so.

The Cubs again have 7 pitchers who could be viewed as legitimately worthy of turns starting games: Garza, Samardzija, Wood, Jackson, Baker, Feldman and Villanueva.

But is this a change? Baker and Feldman are clearly question marks, as Baker is coming off of Tommy John Surgery and Feldman has struggled match results to his peripherals (although leaving Arlington could help that). Villanueva has generally struggled as a regular starter, and is viewed by most as more of a multi-innings reliever who has the ability to start a few games here or there.

And how many of these guys are guaranteed to be Cubs on August 1? The current debate du jour in the Cubs blogosphere is if the Cubs should extend or trade Garza. It is also generally presumed that the Cubs will try to move Baker and Feldman for prospects if they succeed. You could very well see a rotation at the end of next season comprised of Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, Carlos Villanueva and a question mark, and that’s if no one gets hurt.

Indeed, the only pick up the Cubs made that was different from their prior signings under Epstein and Hoyer was the Edwin Jackson signing, meaning they actually had to pay someone who didn’t appear to be undervalued by the market. I think only 3 things could be taken from that signing: (1) the Cubs think Edwin Jackson is likely to hold his current value as a 3/4 type in a good starting rotation over the next four years; (2) the Cubs think they will need a solid 3/4 starter over the next 4 years, a solid indicator that they intend to compete for the majority of those 4 seasons; and (3) the Cubs are concerned about their ability to develop middle to back end of the rotation starters in the next couple of seasons from the farm system.

But the Edwin Jackson signing should not be taken as a sign that the Cubs are going to shift away from their current strategy of prioritizing the farm system over Major League wins for thew 2013 season. If I had to guess, though, 2014 will be a different story.

On a final note, I hope all of you who celebrate it are having a wonderful Christmas.

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Noah Eisner is a Chicago attorney living in the western suburbs with his wife and son (and impending daughter). When he isn’t practicing law or entertaining a toddler, Noah follows Cubs baseball with a focus on the farm system and sabermetric analysis. His Cubs-related ramblings can be followed on Twitter @Noah_Eisner.

  • Doc Raker

    Exactly how I feel. Merry Christmas!


    Does everyone think the Jackson signing was a good one? And do you think they’d sign Jackson if they had gotten Sanchez? I view the Jackson signing as a body to eat innings. Certainly an improvement over makeshift rotations, but we could have done better

  • Buddy

    I don’t mind the Jackson signing. And no, they would not have signed Jackson if they got Sanchez. 

  • JC4CubsWin

    I would tend to agree with “Buddy”. If Sanchez didn’t go back and re-sign with Detroit the Cubs would NOT have signed Jackson. Jackson will give the Cubs more innings for less money than Sanchez. Last year after Garza went on the shelf, Traded Dempster and Maholm and the inning limit on Jeff S. The rotation was “Less than ML Caliber” to say  the least.  

  • Dusty_Baylor

    Well I’d of course rather have Sanchez, but for the $$ I’m happy with Jackson, compared to signing Lohse or Joe Saunders.
    Who else was still available?

  • Doc Raker

    This Jackson inning eater talk is very reminiscent of the Jason Marquis talk back when the Hendry regime signed him. 

  • Noah_I

    Jackson is a much better pitcher at this stage that Marquis was when he was signed by Hendry.  Marquis was a marginal starter because he walked too many hitters compared to the number he struck out.  Through his career he’s pretty much been a 5K/9, 3.5 BB/9 pitcher, which is a pretty terrible ratio.  Over the last 4 years Jackson has pretty much been a 7 K/9, 3 BB/9 pitcher.  So while you can get innings from both, the quality of innings from Jackson should be significantly higher.


    Exactly. I didn’t like the Marquis signing back then. I was like this guy has pitched for 2 of the best coaches in the game in Leo Mazzone and Dave Duncan and he still hasn’t figured it out, and the year before the Cardinals left him off their playoff roster despite lots of health issues with their pitchers.

  • Jason

    I think Garza ends up being extended.  Because of the new CBA, any team who acquires Garza mid-season won’t receive draft pick compensation if he leaves in free agency the following winter.  That leads me to believe that the return would be more Ryan Dempster-like than James Shields-like.  Their other option is giving him a qualifying offer and getting draft pick compensation themselves which is meh.  Maybe we can get him below market value if we extend him before he reproves his health?

    Even if him, Feldman, and Baker are traded, Vizcaino or even Alberto Cabrera should be ready by August, so hopefully we’ll at least be able to avoid more Raley and Rusin.

  • Noah_I

    While I agree that the package involved in the James Shields trade is unlikely (for multiple reasons including amount of team control and the fact that a 2nd pitcher was involved in the deal as well), you’ll see more for Garza than we got for Dempster, largely because Garza’s age makes him more eligible for an extension and longer term success than Garza. And you have two deals from last season that you could use as precedent: 

    The Brewers traded Zack Greinke to the Angels for a group of prospects headed by shortstop Jean Segura, a Top 50 prospect heading into 2012.

    The Marlins traded Anibal Sanchez to the Tigers for a group of prospects headed by starting pitcher Jacob Turner, a Top 50 prospect heading into 2012.

    These deals are much better indicators of expected return for a healthy Garza than either the Shields deal or the Dempster deal.

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