It is obvious to Chicago Cubs fans that their biggest need this offseason is pitching: starting and relief.
The Cubs are ranked seventh in the MLB in both opponent OPS and staff ERA, as well as K\9. They are also dead last in K\BB ratio.
Luckily for the Cubs and their fans, GM Jed Hoyer knows where the club needs the most improvement.
“We certainly have to be aggressive with starting pitching over the winter,” Hoyer said. “I think that hardly makes us unique among major league teams. We will certainly have competition to find starting pitching but we certainly will need to bolster our rotation.”
Hoyer also voiced his plan to not be tight with the purse strings in order to improve the club in 2013.
“We will have financial flexibility,” Hoyer said. “We’ve been diligent to make sure we do have flexibility and we’re efficient going forward. We’ll obviously be active in the free agent market. That’s a big part of our research and work now is evaluating free agents. We have some money to spend and we’ll focus on it heavily.”
Establishing consistency within the pitching staff is the Cubs GM's most pertinent objective this offseason. Hoyer’s acknowledgment of the problem and aim to resolve the club’s deficiencies has the Cubs on the right track towards improving in 2013 and beyond.
In 2012 the Cubs used 12 pitchers in the starting role, all of whom combined for 42 wins and a 4.52 ERA—leaving the staff near the bottom of the NL. And not one pitched more than 175 innings—Samardzija was one out short of that threshold and the only season-long starter on the roster.
Having three starting spots cemented by Samardzija, Garza, and Wood, the Cubs will need to sign at least two additional starting pitchers this offseason. Those signings will most likely resemble the 2012 signing of Paul Maholm—safe and effective—but at least one of them will need to be a long-term solution.
The Cubs do not have any high-quality starting pitching prospects in the farm system who would be ready to be added to the roster in 2013 or 2014, save Arodys Vizcaino. They have young, potential-laden arms in the lower levels of minor league ball, but those players will need years to develop.
There is one potential free agent option this offseason that would fit the bill of a quality, young, and a long-term option: Mat Latos. But that is if the Cincinnati Reds feel his arbitration salary would be too high to include him on a 2013 roster that already has $71 million wrapped up in just 11 players.
More than likely, the Cubs will try to bring in guys like Joe Blanton, Edwin Jackson, and Shaun Marcum. The Cubs could also consider the option of an offseason trade to improve the starting rotation.
An ESPNChicago.com article insinuated the Miami Marlins may look to dump Josh Johnson this offseason, and the Cubs could be the prime trade partner to take the oft-injured righty off of the Marlins' books.
By possibly trading for Josh Johnson the Cubs would find themselves in a situation familiar to those that plagued them for the first half of the previous decade. Johnson is another pitcher who, when on, is a frontline starter, but has spent too much time on the DL to be considered a reliable option.
But as much as the Cubs need an upgrade in their starting rotation, their biggest need lies in the bullpen. Last season the Cubs’ bullpen one of the worst in the league.
Take for instance Ryan Dempster’s April and May starts when, for a time, he had one of if not the lowest ERAs in the MLB and yet was winless because a combination of poor run support and blown leads.
Solidifying the bullpen should be the Cubs’ top priority. It does not matter how well a starter pitches, if the pen cannot close the door then the starter’s performance was all for naught.
In 2012 the Cubs had fewer people come through the Wrigley Field turnstiles than the bullpen. The Cubs used 22 pitchers in relief—including Joe Mather’s .1 IP and Paul Maholm’s sole IP—many of whom began the season in the minor leagues with the Cubs or other organizations.
The closer role last season was a calamity. The Cubs used 10 pitchers in 49 save opportunities, converting only 28 saves—good enough for last in the MLB—and blowing the other 21, seventh worst in the MLB.
The Cubs will have a difficult time luring quality veteran relievers to the club this offseason. Theo Epstein and Hoyer have made very clear the Cubs are building for the future and winning will come down the road.
The long-term role of Carlos Marmol will also need to be addressed this offseason before moving forward with improving the bullpen. Whether they decide to trade him or name him the closer or set-up man, his future with the team needs to be decided upon so the exact needs of the club can be filled.