With a core based around Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo at the big league level, and prospects like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora, the Chicago Cubs seemingly have a bright future ahead of them. All of the players mentioned above are position players; whether that is a good or bad thing is left up to interpretation, but the pitching in the Cubs’ system lags far behind the hitters. President Theo Epstein and his staff have done an incredible job of bringing in elite young talent during this rebuild, but as impressive as the offensive prospects are, the Cubs lack elite level starting pitching.
Jeff Samardzija is the current ace for the Cubs, and he has shown a ton of upside the past couple of seasons. That being said, Samardzija has struggled with consistency, and it seems possible that the Cubs and Samardzija will be going in separate ways sometime soon. While they are not on the elite level like Baez or Bryant, C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson and Arodys Vizcaino are all solid pitching prospects with great upside. However, for many reasons, Edwards, Johnson and Vizcaino represent a ton of risk, and it is extremely unlikely that they all reach their potential.
They have some nice upside pieces and solid back of the rotation options (Travis Wood, Kyle Hendricks and Edwin Jackson), but it is no secret that the Cubs must add pitching to their system before they will be competitive. Justin Masterson is set to become a free agent this season, and there have been many reports that him and the Cleveland Indians are far apart on a contract extension. He is a perfect pitcher for the Cubs to acquire.
Masterson is a 28-year-old RHP with great stuff that would translate perfectly to Wrigley Field. Masterson’s heavy sinker makes him arguably the best ground ball pitcher in all of baseball. He was an All-Star last season positing a very good xFIP of 3.33, was 12th in the MLB allowing .61 home runs per nine innings, struck out 9.1 per nine and of course, led all of baseball with a 58 percent ground ball rate. In the warm summer months, Wrigley Field is one of the friendliest hitter parks in all of baseball. Masterson’s ability to keep the ball down and on the ground, instead of in the bleachers, would be a welcomed addition for the Cubs.
While it is more likely for the Cubs to land Masterson via free agency, I think an in-season trade is possible. If the Indians fall out of contention before the July 31 trade deadline, they are very likely to make Masterson available, considering they will probably lose him to free agency anyways. If the Cubs can get Masterson to sign a long-term deal before the trade, I could see them giving up some extra assets to ensure they land him instead of trying their luck in free agency.
Whether through a trade or more likely via free agency, the Cubs have plenty of money to land him. If Epstein and his staff view Masterson as a top of the rotation pitcher like I do, I think there is a strong possibility that he will be in the rotation by the 2015 season. One thing is for sure; the Cubs need to attack the SP market soon, and Masterson is likely to be the best available next season. Seems like a perfect match.