2014 Cubs Possibilities
Let’s take on overall look at the development and future of the Chicago Cubs heading into the 2014 season. Let’s do it position by position, and evaluate payroll, free agency, positional changes, etc. as we go through it.
Beginning then with the starting rotation. We can lock in Shark, Wood, and EJax into the starting rotation no matter how much we may like it to change. In a perfect world maybe the Cubs flip Shark for one of the top 5 SP prospects in baseball, but I doubt that happens, especially in the offseason. That leaves us with Chris Rusin, Jake Arrieta, and Justin Grimm as the possible 4/5 options, but there are a slew of other guys who could make a push. You have Brooks Raley, Albert Cabrera, Kyle Hendricks, and Barret Loux as guys who could push. You also cannot forget the potential of bringing back Scott Baker on a team friendly prove it deal after their good faith deal and sticking with him this past year. That would firmly put 4 guys in the conversation for the 4/5 roles going in to next year.
An even better possibility (or at least hope from the Cubs FO) is the addition of Tanaka out of Japan. He is guy who is a step below Yu Darvish (true ace status), but will also likely come at a lower cost than Yu did. IF the Cubs get Tanaka, then you can immediately enter him with Shark, EJax and Wood as the top four in the rotation heading into next year. Then you are left with Rusin, Grimm, Arrieta as guys battling for one spot. In that scenario I think you see Scott Baker walk without an offer, and one or more deserving pitchers slot in elsewhere. That would be the optimal outcome.
In my perfect world the Cubs would trade Shark straight up this offseason (extension looming) for any of Dylan Bundy, Archie Bradley, Taijuan Walker, Robert Stephenson or Jameson Taillon. I don’t see that happening, but if it were a possibility I would pull the trigger immediately. Before Shark turns 30 and gets a big money extension to be a one, which he may never be as time is running out to “develop”. That would also allow two of the Grimm, Rusin, Arrieta combo to start the year with the big league club.
However for 2014 look for a rotation of:
1. Shark 2. Tanaka 3. Wood 4. EJax 5. Arrieta
That leaves Rusin and Grimm as the odd guys out of the rotation, and I think you see Grimm start in Iowa, to see if he can break out as a starter. By June I think we will know if Grimm is a future back end of the rotation starter or a power arm out of the pen. Rusin will be a call up piece in summer when other guys start to go or injuries pop up. He is somewhat of a known commodity and stable pony to have when needed.
The other side of this however is the young guys who need to keep working up the system. You will see Cabrera, Rusin, Hendricks, Loux, and maybe Neil Ramirez start at AAA Iowa to kick off 2014. That is the most prospect and potential laden starting staff that Iowa has seen in years, maybe ever. These guys are going to earn their shot or be moved to pen by the end of 2014 most likely. I think you see Ramirez as a crazy good power arm at the end of games at the end of the day. Cabrera may very follow in that mold as well. However Hendricks will earn his shot and Loux is still growing as a pitching prospect. Look for Cabrera and/or Ramirez to get a look in the Cubs bullpen by the end of 2015, building towards a formidable homegrown pen by 2015. Look for Hendricks to get a look as a SP by June or July, and look for the Cubs to unload Shark, EJax or both by the break next year. Unless Shark breaks out as a top tier starter in which case Wood or Arrieta could be shopped. Regardless I don’t see EJax with the club this time next year if we are pushing prospects and acquiring more. This will also clear room for CJ Edwards, Eric Jokisch, Nick Struck, Paniagua, Pierce Johnson, Ivan Pineyro, Ben Wells, Corey Black, Kyler Burke, and Lendy Castillo to continue to move up the system to AA or AAA respectively.
All things considered, as the Cubs push to develop their newfound pitching depth up the system, we are going to see plenty of turnover at the top. At the end of the day we all have something to start getting excited about in the Cubs pitching prospectus going forward, but it’s going to begin with some changes on the big team that may seem like sell offs at first. It’s all to the good and will end up being better for the club long term, but it might mean suffering through some prospects not panning out in the next year or so. So put buckle up and get ready for a ride the next year or so as the pitching prospects shake things up at the top.
….stay tuned tomorrow for a run down of the bullpen forecast for 2014, and just for fun, looking to 2015 keep your eye out for:
3. CJ Edwards
4. David Price?