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Cubs Tue Apr 08 2014
One worry floating around about Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer's plan is that they haven't been able to secure a front-of-the-rotation starter up to this point through drafts, trading, or the international market. Sure, C.J. Edwards (the highest ranked pitcher in the Cubs system) is thought of by some to have ace potential, but he'd need to add about 40 pounds before anyone starts taking him that seriously.
Knowing this weakness, the focus during the last two winters has been finding a young starting pitcher on the free agent market who has the potential to be around (and still successful) when the likes of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara and Albert Almora are all ready for the big stage. But they've come up short in the bidding on both Anibal Sanchez and Masahiro Tanaka.
The pursuit remains for someone you can lay huge wagers on every fifth day, but future success of the Cubs won't be defined by guys leading the rotation. Through six games (WARNING: SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT), Cubs starters have an ERA of 1.93, and the pitching staff as a whole ranks sixth in baseball at 2.54. Last season, Matt Garza, Travis Wood, Chris Rusin, Carlos Villanueva and Scott Feldman all pitched with an ERA below four when starting games, while Edwin Jackson was incredibly unlucky and Jeff Samardzija had a down season.
The spit and glue approach the front office has used on the pitching staff (or the sign and flip, if you prefer) has worked wonders in the rotation. Finishing ninth in MLB with 91 quality starts is proof of that. That doesn't even take into account the overwhelming attrition rate we're seeing with starting pitchers going under the knife this spring.
The Cubs could've drafted a fireballer like Jonathan Gray with the second overall pick in last June's draft, but despite having the left side of the infield seemingly set with guys already in the majors and high minors, they drafted Bryant because of his huge power potential. It's the hitters that can lead an organization to a new day. Just ask the Pittsburgh Pirates, who made the playoffs last season after decades of futility behind young hitters like Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Pedro Alvarez, and who just saw their top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon go down with a season-ending injury. Their rotation for 2014 includes two guys signed via free agency the last couple of seasons (Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez) along with two guys they've traded for (Wandy Rodriguez and Charlie Morton) with just one draft and develop guy of their own (Gerrit Cole).
The Cubs do have a glut of pitching depth in the lower levels, but lack the potential number one starter that every fan base dreams of. But the starting pitching doesn't matter when you've finished 28th in runs scored each of the last two seasons. So far in 2014? -- you guessed it -- 28th in runs scored again.
It's all about getting the hitting prospects to the major leagues in the next 15 months. The starting pitching will be the easy part after that.