Cubs feeling much better about pitching than last year
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter August 11, 2013 8:39PM
Updated: August 11, 2013 9:19PM
ST. LOUIS — Looking for a sign of potential progress in the Cubs’ fan-spanking rebuilding process?
Here’s one: They don’t plan to sign another Edwin Jackson this winter.
And, no, that’s not a punch line.
Jackson is a Cub because a year ago the front office looked at the 2014 season and felt confident projecting just one pitcher in the organization, Jeff Samardzija, for the rotation (and because Anibal Sanchez turned down a five-year, $75 million deal).
Since then, the Cubs have acquired just enough pitching they control for multiple years — along with a success story or two internally — to perhaps turn the first corner in this multiyear overhaul.
It doesn’t mean they’re suddenly going to have the St. Louis Cardinals’ powerful big-league staff and depth anytime soon.
But it does suggest the first visible signs of progress at the big-league level. It also allows the front office to turn its attention this winter to short-term solutions for a moribund lineup — which came up short again in an 8-4 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday — while awaiting the potential impact bats in Class A to mature.
“There’s obviously been a concerted effort to acquire as much pitching as we can, and whenever possible as close to major-league-ready pitching as we can,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “You never have enough, but we feel we’ve made good strides in the last year, and that should help us over the winter.”
An extension for the arbitration-eligible Samardzija remains the highest priority among pitching-related issues this offseason. And insiders suggest the Cubs likely will seek at least one pitcher they can count on for rotation help — possibly another to flip at the trade deadline.
But the development of All-Star left-hander Travis Wood — who opens a three-game series Monday against his old team, the Cincinnati Reds — and three more years of Jackson in the rotation offer more pitching stability than the Cubs have had since president Theo Epstein took over nearly two years ago.
Jackson might not have inspired a lot Sunday with his 13th non-quality start and 12th of fewer than six innings this season. But he still has a 3.65 ERA since the start of July and a track record that suggests a capable presence for the back of the rotation.
More intriguing for the rest of this season will be the performance of several pitchers who could have something to say about the rotation next year, and possibly the Cubs’ plans this winter:
◆ Power-pitching right-hander Jake Arrieta, acquired five weeks ago from the Baltimore Orioles in the Scott Feldman trade, is expected to join the Cubs’ rotation during the upcoming homestand for an extended look. Arrieta, who made an impressive debut with the Cubs in a spot start in Game 2 of the doubleheader July 30 against the Milwaukee Brewers (six innings, one run), won’t win a job even with a lights-out finish, but he can put himself in position for one.
◆ Scott Baker, a former 15-game winner who restarts a minor-league rehab assignment Wednesday, is a candidate to get an offer to re-sign if he shows enough progress and health in September.
◆ Right-hander Justin Grimm, who had 17 starts for the Texas Rangers before being acquired two weeks ago in the Matt Garza deal, likely will get a look in September as potential depth.
◆ Keep an eye on Rangers right-hander Neil Ramirez, who late last week returned from a biceps strain to pitch for Class AAA Round Rock. His fitness and effectiveness will determine whether the high-end starting prospect becomes the player to be named in the Garza trade (the Cubs have the choice).
“We’re not [at the Cardinals’ level] by any stretch,” Hoyer said. “But I certainly feel much better about our pitching than I did a year ago.”