The Chicago Cubs have a few young stars currently on the roster, but Theo Epstein needs to try to bring free agent pitcher Zack Greinke to the Windy City to speed up the rebuilding process.
Chicago was unsuccessful in its attempt to acquire Dan Haren, and ownership should now go after a pitcher who has a better track record.
Greinke will demand a big contract as the top pitcher on the market. Josh Hamilton may be the top free agent, but the pitcher will attract more interest. More teams need a star pitcher and at a more affordable price.
As a midseason acquisition, Greinke proved he can pitch on a big stage. He went 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA down the stretch for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. His team missed the postseason, but he gave the team a boost.
The right-hander has spent most of his career pitching for teams that don't make the playoffs. The Cubs are not in position to compete for the NL Central next season, but they could be ready by 2014 with the addition of a few players.
Although the team is rebuilding, the Cubs should reward their fans and sign the free agent pitcher.
NL Central Experience
Not only has Greinke been a better pitcher than Haren in his career, but he also has experience inside the National League Central.
The 29-year-old has great numbers against inside the NL Central since 2010, according to ESPN.com.
Wrigley Field has not been friendly since moving to the National League, but it is a very small sample. Despite the numbers, his stuff is good enough to pitch anywhere.
In an even smaller sample size, his numbers at PNC Park have not been up to his high standards. He got rocked in Pittsburgh in 2011, which was his only appearance there as a Brewer.
Although he has not been spectacular in Chicago and Pittsburgh, he has been outstanding at the other ballparks in the NL Central.
The Milwaukee Brewers won Greinke's first 18 starts at Miller Park, and he never lost in 23 appearances with the home team. He went 15-0 with a 2.93 ERA in Milwaukee, and those numbers can't be ignored.
Against the top teams in the division, he was dominant.
Experience is important in baseball, and Greinke's past appearances against the NL Central should be enough for Chicago to try to sign the pitcher.
Need for Starting Pitching
The Cubs traded Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm during the season, so the rotation is in need of improvement.
Doug Padilla of ESPN Chicago reported the team will be aggressive in trying to find a starting pitcher this offseason. It is unclear what type of starter the team is looking for, but the attempt to acquire Haren should make it clear that they want a proven pitcher.
Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija had good years in 2012, but the rotation is unsettled behind those two. Adding Greinke would solidify the front of the rotation.
Travis Wood has shown flashes of brilliance, and a bad July makes his numbers worse than what they should be. Outside of July, he only allowed more than three earned runs three times in 21 starts.
The rotation was a big reason why the team lost 101 games. It featured four pitchers with 10 or more losses, although some of the pitchers pitched well despite their records.
A pitcher of Greinke's caliber would bring talent as well as a leader to the rotation. He can teach the younger pitchers how to pitch in the major leagues.
Cash to Spend
As the Cubs started to rebuild last offseason, they have been able to free up money along the way. By trading Dempster, Maholm, Geovany Soto and Reed Johnson, the Cubs shed about $24 million. The Cubs also paid Carlos Zambrano $16 million to pitch for the Miami Marlins last season.
The payroll dropped $25 million from 2011 to 2012 and could drop even more in 2013. With more cash to spend this offseason, the team should be aggressive in pursuing Greinke.
Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times reported that the Cubs will not be players for Greinke, and there is no speculation about a potential signing. However, the Cubs have money to spend and should use it on improving the rotation.
The former American League Cy Young Award winner may choose to re-sign with the Angels, but the Cubs could try to give him a big contract to bring him to Wrigley Field.
It's not a likely fit, but signing Greinke would help speed up the rebuilding process and give the Cubs a respectable rotation.
As mentioned above, there are no rumors linking Greinke to Chicago.
However, his NL Central experience should make him an attractive free agent to the Cubs. He has pitched great against the best teams in the division and has proved himself against the better hitting American League.
Chicago lost 101 games last season, and Greinke would help them start to turn things around next season.
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