[Much, much more analysis of the big trade is to come. I am in triage mode.]
The long-term question about the Chicago Cubs’ rotation is a much more complex one, and needn’t be addressed immediately in the wake of the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade. It has the potential to involve many players who aren’t in the organization yet, and won’t be decided until we have a heck of a lot more data on the guys who are in the organization. It’ll be a fun discussion, but it’s for another day.
The more pressing question is what happens now that 40% of the Cubs’ rotation is gone, and there are games to be played. Including today’s game, which was to be started by Samardzija.
For today, Gordon Wittenmyer reports that Carlos Villanueva is expected to get the start (UPDATE: Cubs have confirmed), with Chris Rusin called up from AAA Iowa to help in long-relief (maybe they’ll piggyback, since Villanueva is not stretched out). If true, that’s likely to be a short-term fix while the Cubs plan out the rest of the rotation. It could mean that Rusin will be taking that rotation spot the next time through – he couldn’t do it today because he just pitched on July 2. Rusin has starting history with the Cubs, and this may be his last shot to show that he can be a back-of-the-rotation type in the big leagues. Rusin turns 28 after the season, and is currently pitching to mixed results at AAA Iowa.
Dallas Beeler is another obvious candidate to slide into the rotation, given that he’s already on the 40-man roster, and had his small taste of the big leagues already (looking very much like a capable 5th starter). Beeler just started on Thursday, so it’s possible he could come up the next time Jason Hammel was due to start, which is July 9, just one extra day longer than his usual schedule. The day before that, however, the Cubs have a doubleheader in Cincinnati, so they were going to need another starter anyway (Travis Wood is slated to start the other half). Beeler could go on normal rest on Tuesday, July 8, then. It’s a fair guess that one of Beeler or Rusin will be in the rotation for the near-term.
As for the other starter, it’s almost certainly going to be Tsuyoshi Wada, who was already being discussed as a possibility for the July 10 doubleheader, which just happens to be five days from today. That would put him on regular rest to slide right into the Samardzija spot, although it would then require the Cubs to have another fill-in starter that day (Rusin? Villanueva?). Wada, 33, is among the more fascinating stories for the Cubs this year, given his age and experience in Japan, his subsequent Tommy John surgery, and the fact that he therefore has never had a chance to show what he could do in the big leagues. Is he likely to emerge as a medium-term rotation piece for the Cubs? Probably not. But he’s dominated at AAA with craft and polish, and if he became a solid 4/5 for the Cubs, that’s a really nice cost-controlled piece.
The Cubs signed Wada to a minor league deal before the season, and added him to the 40-man roster last week. I really want to see how his stuff plays at the big league level. (Early guess? At times, he frustrates the hell out of batters and looks fantastic. Other times, if he’s not perfect in his location, his lack of velocity gets him crushed.)
So, it looks like Villanueva/Rusin fill in today, and then perhaps Beeler/Wada go on July 8 (half of the doubleheader) and July 9. If Rusin doesn’t pitch much today, it’s possible he could go again by July 8/9, if he’s the Cubs’ rotation preference.
Given that Wada’s last outing on July 3 was a short, bullpen type (presumably in anticipation of rotation changes), it’s possible he could start today for the Cubs (since guys often throw bullpen side sessions two days before a start anyway). If the Cubs feel Wada is ready, I’d rather see him get the nod today. It would be nice to get in as many pre-July 31 Wada starts at the big league level as possible. You know, just in case.
Other AAA pitchers with theoretical big league upside include Kyle Hendricks and Eric Jokisch (the latter of whom just threw seven scoreless innings at Iowa, striking out seven and giving up just two hits and no walks – don’t sleep on him). The problem for those two right now is that neither is on the 40-man roster, and the Cubs already have so many sensible options that are. There will be a time to evaluate those guys at the big league level, it just might not be this precise moment. It could come after the Trade Deadline, depending on what else happens, or it could come in the Spring. Hendricks may have the most upside of all of these AAA 4/5 types, so he probably gets priority whenever the Cubs believe he’s developmentally ready for the big leagues.
Dan Straily has already said on the radio that he’s been told he’s heading to AAA Iowa for now, which would seem to rule him out for one of the two vacated rotation spots in the near-term. Eventually, he’ll get a shot to crack the Cubs’ rotation, perhaps as soon as the second half. The Cubs didn’t seek his inclusion in the deal for nothing – they’ll get him in the system, work with him a bit, see what they can do about that pesky (absurd) HR rate, and then give him a shot.
Keep in mind, things were going to get wonky this week anyway with a doubleheader on Tuesday, which was going to necessitate calling up another pitcher. And then you’ve got the All-Star break the following week, so we may not see the “new” 2014 rotation set until later this month. The fact that someone like Dallas Beeler or Dan Straily doesn’t get a start in the next week and a half doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be in the picture by July 20.
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