With rumors persisting about the Chicago Cubs’ pursuit – real or imagined – of a cost-controlled, impact starting pitcher on the trade market, FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan took a run at analyzing whether the Cubs actually need to go that route.
It’s an interesting and thought-provoking read, even if I’m not sure I’d agree, precisely, with where Sullivan lands. Back at that in a moment.
Among the most comforting aspects of Sullivan’s piece is his take on the Cubs’ rotation as presently constructed: it’s good, it’s deep, and it projects to be the second best in baseball in 2016 by RA9-WAR, behind only the Dodgers. Projections are just projections, and, on the pitching side, we know that health-related variability can be enormous. That’s especially true when the talent is especially consolidated in one or two elite players. Still, it’s good to know that the Cubs’ pitching staff already looks good on paper.
To be sure, it’s reasonable to concerned – in a general sense – about Arrieta’s health, because there’s so much riding on his arm, and arms don’t always last. We believe that huge spikes in usage in a given year can lead to problems in ensuing years. But when you really get into the specifics of Arrieta, in particular, and when you consider his overall fitness, his lack of serious arm issues in the past, and his increased reliance on his fastball in 2015, I’m not sure you have to be more worried about Arrieta than you would be about any other pitcher of importance.
That said, even if I wouldn’t say the Cubs’ (possible) continued interest in adding another starter is Arrieta-focused, the article still speaks to the thrust of my point about acquiring another starter (if the Cubs opt to do it): losing one of the front two or three Cubs starters really hurts a team that’s right there in a prime competitive window (and they, unlike other teams, can afford to add another starter without hurting the team too much).
Whether it’s Arrieta, or Jon Lester (32 in January), or John Lackey (37 and pitching a very long season in 2015), or even Jason Hammel (33 and a variety of injuries in his career, including last year), the Cubs figure to deal with an injury or two in the rotation at some point in 2016. It just happens. Given how good the Cubs could otherwise be, it arguably makes sense for them – maybe more than most other teams – to go over the top on quality pitching depth this offseason.
Then, you throw in the fact that there’s a relative lack of impact starting pitching scheduled to be available after 2016 and 2017, plus the Cubs’ lack of impact starting pitching depth in the upper minors, and you could argue that the Cubs’ need to add a cost-controlled starter this offseason is as much about this upcoming season as it is about the next one or two after that.
I suppose that is all to say, I’m landing where I’ve landed for the better part of a week now: if the right deal comes along for the Cubs to add an impact, cost-controlled starting pitcher, I can get on board, even if it means giving up some serious positional talent in the process. But there’s really no need for the Cubs to force it right now.
Maybe that’s an unsatisfying conclusion to this discussion, but I’d add only that teams that convince themselves they “must” do Thing X or Thing Y often wind up regretting the aftereffects they cause. Because of the incredibly strong, deep, and versatile roster the Cubs have built, I don’t expect them to start convincing themselves of anything they “must” do any time soon.