There was a time, not so long ago, when the popular perception was that the Chicago Cubs were desperately in need of a front-end starting pitcher, lest their 2015 playoff hopes wither on the vine of August and September.
There was a time, not so long ago, when the popular perception was that the starting pitching trade market was going to be a vast wasteland of two or three options, and potential buyers like Cubs were going to be left with no other option but to be fleeced.
Both of these things were, of course, dramatically overstated, even as they presented interesting points of discussion.
Here’s the reality as we sit here, less than two weeks out from the Trade Deadline:
(1) The Chicago Cubs do need to add another starting pitcher. No, it’s not because they need an ace, and no, it’s not because they have had disastrous pitching. Indeed, as the offense (much trickier to add to for the Cubs) has flailed about for more than a month, the pitching – both starting and bullpen – has kept the team afloat. They’ve been remarkably good.
But the need for starting pitching is still very much present, and it’s because the quality of depth is frighteningly thin. When you have to go out and buy Clayton Richard in trade and start him immediately, there’s an issue. When you have to pine for the return of Tsuyoshi Wada, who is battling a shoulder problem, there’s an issue. When you lose Donn Roach on waivers and it’s not so crazy to be just a tiny bit concerned about that, there’s an issue. When your chest seizes up into terror tremors when Jason Hammel leaves a start after one inning, there’s an issue.
The Cubs had tremendous back-end pitching depth when the season started, but thanks to a combination of injury, ineffectiveness, and slow development, it’s all but gone. Consider that, even if you’re satisfied with Tsuyoshi Wada as the fifth starter – let’s assume he’s ready to come back within a start or two – behind him are Richard (who cannot be optioned to the minors, and thus might be lost when Wada returns) and Dallas Beeler. If the Cubs were to lose one, or God forbid two, of their front four starters, the rotation quickly goes from “not the Cubs’ primary problem” to “four alarm fire.” The lack of healthy, high-level starting pitching prospects are the reason, but that’s an issue that cannot be addressed in the next two weeks.
The back end of the rotation, however, can be addressed in the next two weeks. If the Cubs can pick up a decent rental like Mike Leake or Ian Kennedy or Scott Kazmir, just as examples, they not only improve the overall quality of the rotation for the second half, but they also proactively protect against the injuries that always pop up.
(2) The good news is that the collective wisdom about there not being any sellers this year is quickly coming undone. Ken Rosenthal sums it up pretty well:
Already available: Hamels, Kazmir, Cueto, Leake, four #Padres starters, Latos, Haren. Could grow to include Samardzija, Gallardo, even Price
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 18, 2015
The Cubs will have options to pick up a starter if they want, and if there’s a fit.
Yes, I hope the Cubs figure out a way to add a little offense, but that’s (necessarily) going to come in the form of, at best, a complementary piece, and in the form of internal moves (Javier Baez getting healthy? Tommy La Stella getting healthy?).
The pitching hasn’t been a problem. That’s true. Hopefully the Cubs ensure that it doesn’t become one. The ingredients are in place for the offense to come around on its own. The pitching, however, isn’t going to get any better than it already is on its own. Protecting against the downslope of regression and injury is an important goal for the next 13 days.