While they have struggled mightily at the major league level for the past couple of seasons, the front office for the Chicago Cubs has done a fantastic job of acquiring young talent. Between the draft, trades and free agency, president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have identified young players who have yet to reach their prime years, and have began to build the organization from the ground up.
With Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Junior Lake showing some nice promise at the major league level, and incredible talents like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler dominating the minor leagues, the Cubs appear to be sitting pretty with offensive talent. Unfortunately, the pitching lacks behind.
Epstein, Hoyer and the rest of the Cubs’ front office have tried to add impact starting pitching for the past few seasons without success. Last offseason, they made a serious run at Anibal Sanchez before he decided to return to the Detroit Tigers. In 2013, Sanchez went 14-8, with an American League leading 2.57 ERA and 10 strikeouts per nine innings. He was incredible against very tough AL competition, and would probably be even better against the offensively inferior National League.
This offseason, the Cubs aggressively pursued Japanese RHP Masahiro Tanaka, before he announced last week that he would be signing with the New York Yankees. Obviously, it remains to be seen how Tanaka performs against MLB offenses, but there is no doubt that the 25-year-old talented right-hander would have been a welcomed addition to the Cubs’ pitching staff.
Sure, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood have been solid for the major league team, plus C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson show nice potential in the minors, but the pitching is not near at the level that it needs to be for the team to be competitive in the future. Fortunately for the Cubs, there should be more pitching available next offseason than there has been for a while.
As of right now, Homer Bailey, Jon Lester, Justin Masterson, Max Scherzer and James Shields are all set to hit the open market next offseason. Obviously, things can change quickly and any of these guys could sign long-term contracts with their current teams. In fact, the chances of all of them hitting free agency is almost zero. That being said, at least one of these ace pitchers will be available.
No matter who or how many of them reach free agency, the Cubs simply must be involved with all of them. Guys like Scherzer, Lester and the others are legitimate top of the rotation pitchers. If the Cubs could land at least one of these pitchers, the future suddenly looks much brighter.
With the incredible young talent that the front office has been assembling in the minors getting close to the big league level, the time to spend on an ace is approaching quickly. With 90+ loss seasons beginning to look like the norm, Epstein and the Cubs’ front office must start landing their offseason targets.