First things first, I'll admit to all you North Siders and fans of the "Loveable Losers" on Waveland Avenue, I'm not a Chicago Cubs fan. Sure, I've followed them via WGN when Don Zimmer led them to the playoffs in 1989, seeing Greg Maddux begin his ascent to baseball immortality and, of course, Sammy Sosa's role in the great summer of 1998.
But I love the game. So I've seen everything that comes with being a Cubs fan and unlike the Red Sox, who were easy to loathe because they came off as a New York Yankees-lite, the Cubs were always more pitiful than pompous. All of which made the Steve Bartman debacle so tragic. Waxing poetic about their misery seems a bit old hat though. And why, you might ask?
Well, because quite honestly, the Cubs aren't far removed from having perhaps their best run of baseball in the last 70 years. Hard as it is to believe, the Cubs hadn't had three straight winning seasons (as they did from 2007-2009) since 1972, and that group never once made it to the postseason. The wheels definitely fell off in 2012, as only the dreadful Houston Astros prevented the Cubbies from being the worst team in baseball.
Unlike the Astros, Chicago does not have to be in a position of slow rebuilding. First and foremost (and secondmost), the Cubs have to address their pitching. Or should I say, their lack of pitching. Their 4.51 team ERA was more than a half run worse than the league ERA and good for third worst in the National League.
Honestly, I thought they had made a big step towards shoring up their rotation with this trade a few weeks ago. Dan Haren would've been a great addition to their starting five and while I am in the minority that likes Carlos Marmol, a shaky closer with good stuff can be found dime a dozen. As an A's fan, let me just say I know from first hand experience.
Other than starting pitching, which one position do the Cubs need to address most?
But the deal fell through, and Chicago's starting rotation projects something like this for 2013:
Uhh, let's just say after Garza, I'd be praying for a lot of rain. Cubs President Theo Epstein doesn't have to go spend a ton of money to bring in a quality, proven starter. There's a guy floating around that I have watched blossom into one of the better pitchers in baseball that folks don't talk enough about: Brandon McCarthy
For most people, the name Brandon McCarthy conjures up this frightening moment. The line drive off of Angels' infielder Erick Aybar's bat ended his season. But by all accounts, McCarthy is on track to be ready for the 2013 season. The Cubs are in the market for quality, but affordable starting pitching. McCarthy is rightfully near the top of their list.
And with the assumption of health clear, McCarthy immediately would become the Cubs second-best or even best starter. His numbers are attributed to the cavernous dimensions of the Oakland Coliseum, but the fact is, he pitched well away from Oakland the last two years (3.70 ERA).
More importantly, he pitches in the mold of former Cubs ace Ryan Dempster in that he doesn't walk a lot of batters (24 in 111 innings pitched in 2012). More encouragingly, he keeps the ball in the park, allowing just 21 home runs in the last two years. Those two numbers killed Chicago in 2012 as they were worst in the NL in walks and third worst in home runs allowed. McCarthy would go a long way towards improving those numbers.
But most of all, he's a proven quality starter. While I think Wood can be a decent fourth or fifth starter, the fact that he could be the number three starter says Chicago simply doesn't have enough good arms. McCarthy's addition, which would come cheaper than someone like Kyle Lohse or Hiroki Kuroda, along with someone like Shawn Marcum instantly gives the Cubs a tangibly improved rotation.
That is, unless you want to see more of this in 2013.