The 2011 Chicago Cubs were bad on many levels. Defense, hitting with runners in scoring position, issuing too many walks and not working counts are the categories that instantly come to mind. Among them all, the Cubs' starting rotation had to be the worst. Between the April injuries to Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner, and Carlos Zambrano's 67th career meltdown, quality starts were in short supply. Let's look at the Cubs' potential starting rotation going into 2012.
Matt Garza should be the Cubs' Opening Day starter. In his first year as a Cub he started 31 games, going the distance twice, and threw 198 innings. After a slow start, Garza rebounded posting a career-low 3.32 ERA. His 10-10 record was clearly indicative of bad team defense and relief pitching rather than poor quality starts.
Today Ryan Dempster exercised his 2012 player option for $14 million. Dempster has been a work horse for the Cubs, pitching over 200 innings for the past four years, but his ERA has climbed to its highest point as a Cubs starter, 4.80. The $14 million is going to prevent Epstein from moving him before the season begins, but it's possible a playoff contender could pick him up near the trade deadline with under $7 million remaining for the season. If he avoids the April 9.58 ERA of 2011.
Could this be Mark Buehrle's final year with the Chicago White Sox? With the cost cutting measures that are about to take place on the south side's roster this offseason, it likely will be. Buehrle, a St. Louis native, might prefer to play closer to home. But if Epstein is looking to add a strong, consistent starter, he couldn't do much better this offseason. In his 11 seasons as a starter, Buehrle has started at least 30 games and thrown over 200 innings in all of them.
Just last week I thought that there was zero chance of seeing Carlos Zambrano in a Cubs uniform ever again. That was until Epstein started talking about finding value in players like Zambrano and Soriano. Now, it looks as though he might choose to keep Zambrano around as long as it takes to find a sucker (I mean trade partner) who will part with prospects for him.
Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner will share this slide because they will also be sharing the fifth starting spot in the rotation. Wells will own it when Cashner is hurt and Cashner will own it when Wells is bad. Wells put up a career-worst 4.99 ERA in a career-low 135.1 innings in 2011, leaving much room for improvement. The Cubs are expecting great things from Cashner and hoping he can stay off of the DL in 2012 after spending nearly all of 2011 on it.
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