The 2011 Cubs Starting Rotation Disaster, Er… Opportunity

John WoelfelContributor ISeptember 24, 2010

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 05: Starting pitcher Ryan Dempster #46 of the Chicago Cubs delivers the ball against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field on September 5, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Mets defeated the Cubs 18-5. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Well, this is a mess.

You know that feeling when you take a look at a situation and you immediately have this helpless, sinking feeling where you know there aren’t any real solutions to a problem and your best option will just be patchwork?

Welcome to the 2011 Cubs dilemma.

You know us Cubs fans, we are eternal optimists. The more I watch the current Cubs team (even the one that won six in a row!), the more I am realizing that 2011 just doesn’t have a good outlook. I don’t even know where to begin, so how about the rotation?

It seems to me that the only starter the Cubs have signed for 2011 with no real question marks is Ryan Dempster. I like Dempster, and I think he would be a terrific #3 starter on a winning ball club. I don’t like the thought of him being the ace moving forward. But what other options do the Cubs have? Glad you asked.

Carlos Zambrano
More than likely, Zambrano will be back simply because the only way the Cubs can move him is by eating a bunch of money on his remaining contract that runs through 2012. Zambrano has been a stud lately, but the way he has been jerked around this season… you just don’t know what to expect from him anymore. He’s not a power pitcher anymore and we haven’t gotten to really see enough of what kind of pitcher he is now. Who knows if he can sustain his recent success? Or if he can refrain from snapping and requiring more anger management? To add to the uncertainty, he keeps talking about retiring after the end of this contract. He’ll be 31. Yeah, this is healthy.

Randy Wells
Wells had a really solid first season with the Cubs, going 12-10 with a 3.05 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. Very respectable numbers. This year… not so much. He’s 7-13 and his ERA has ballooned to 4.46 with a WHIP of 1.41. He’s still 27 so he has some time to figure it out, but usually pitchers have done so by now. I’d go ahead and slot him into the rotation for 2011, but on a much shorter leash. Wells doesn’t strike too many guys out and giving up more than a hit an inning is a recipe for disaster.

Carlos Silva
After starting the season as one of the best pitchers in baseball over the first two months, Silva has come back down to earth. Easy for a 250lb man to do. His record sits at 10-6, but the ERA has climbed up to 4.22. That’s pretty high considering it was under 3 for most of the first half of the season. After pitching just thirty innings in 2009, it was inevitable that Silva was going to break down at some point. How much of the breakdown can be attributed to his heart condition is anyone’s guess. He will be in the last year of his contract in 2011 that will pay him $11.5 million. The Cubs will then buy him out for $2 million after the season. I think Silva would be a great fill-in starter in 2012. The problem is, I don’t really want him coming out of the bullpen when he’s not needed to fill in. So… hmmm. I guess you could do worse than having Silva be your 4th or 5th man.

Tom Gorzelanny
I don’t know why Gorzelanny is always considered a last resort for the rotation. He puts up good numbers when he starts, for the most part. His ERA is under 4, but his WHIP is 1.45. Ok, that’s why. He does strike out 8 guys per 9 innings, so that’s something. I’d like to see what he can do when given a chance to pitch out of the rotation for at least half a season. The Cubs tried to give him that opportunity after the All-Star Break but then he had to go and take a liner off his hand.

Casey Coleman
The good news is that his record is 2-2. The bad news is he gives up more hits than innings pitched and walks more than he strikes out. It is by the grace of God alone that he has won 2 and only lost 2 in six starts. Stay away.

Thomas Diamond
Diamond can strike guys out. He’s struck them out at a rate of 11.5 per 9 innings in his 25 innings with the Major League Club this year. He’s also given up 25 hits. And 16 walks. That’s good for a 1-3 record with a 7.20 ERA and a 1.64 WHIP. Diamond could use at least another year in Iowa to find the strike zone.

Jeff Samardzija
Samardzija has looked a little better since returning from Iowa. He’s started two games and has won them both. He’s still walking too many guys though. The Cubs are out of options with Jeff, so he’ll have to stick with them in 2011 which probably means a bullpen roll unless he can start proving he can find the strike zone on a consistent basis.

Andrew Cashner
I wouldn’t mind seeing Cashner get a shot at the rotation. Although that would move him out of the bullpen, and he might be needed there in 2011. Cashner was great when he first came up and then had some really bad outings. Lately he’s been pitching really well again. I think his ERA of over 5.00 is deceiving, he’s pitched better than that. I’d like to see him help the Cubs out of the bullpen next season and then give him a shot at the rotation in 2012.

Cliff Lee
Do the Cubs really have a choice but to go after Lee? They are going to have some money to spend after this season after clearing Ted Lilly, Derrek Lee, and Ryan Theriot’s contracts. When it comes to position players, they really only need (well, need is a bad choice of words… how about “they really only can fit”) someone at first base. And they need to shore up the bullpen. But with so many question marks after Dempster (especially young question marks), the Cubs may try and make the big splash in their rotation. Lee is 32 so he should have some pretty good years left. I would assume the Yankees will do what they can to sign Lee, which would not bode well for the Cubs if they wanted to make a run at him. But if the Cubs could sign Lee to a four year deal in the $65-70 million range, you just solidified your rotation real quick. Now a rotation of Lee, Zambrano, Dempster, Gorzelanny, Wells/Silva looks pretty solid for 2011.

So that’s where we’re at. Throwing a bunch of money at the top free agent isn’t always the answer, but in this case it just might be. There’s not a lot to be had in the free agent market after Lee unless you’d like to bring Lilly back or gamble on Javier Vasquez.

Let the patchwork begin!