The Cubs’ 2012 pitching staff ranked 24th in ERA and 29th in wins. Theo Epstein’s solution for 2013?
A similar approach to last year – sign a lot of guys and see who sticks.
Unfortunately, not only is Theo’s approach to free agency not so fresh, but neither are the Cubs’ recent signings. Edwin Jackson (age 29), Scott Baker (age 31), Scott Feldman (age 29), and Carlos Villanueva (age 29) will be joining the club for 2013. Signing four 30 year olds, none of whom have a career ERA below 4.15, seems like a questionable tactic. The tactic is even more baffling considering the young core Theo is building around in the field.
Starlin Castro is 22. Anthony Rizzo is 24. Brett Jackson is 25. Josh Vitters is 23. Darwin Barney is an old man at 27. This is clearly a team built to win in the future. So what is Theo’s plan?
Travis Wood’s signing last year made more sense than any of the signings this year. Wood was 25 then, showed promise with the Reds, and did the same for the Cubs at times during an admittedly mercurial season. Acquiring young starters with potential seemed to be the most logical plan for the North Siders.
Anibal Sanchez fit that plan. Sanchez is 28 with a career 3.75 ERA. Pair him with the recently re-signed Matt Garza, 29 and career 3.84 ERA, and the Cubbies have two formidable starters who will still produce at a high level when the batters are ready. If Jeff Samardzija is consistent, the top three of Chicago’s rotation could be elite for years to come.
Edwin Jackson seems to be more of a consolation prize. Granted, he is only one year older than Sanchez, but with a 4.40 career ERA. His earlier years in Los Angeles and Tampa Bay may have inflated that number, but he is not a sure bet for No. 2 production. While Sanchez has posted a consistent ERA worthy of the top of the rotation, Jackson’s ERA fluctuates annually.
Scott Baker? He has the potential to win over 10 games and post an ERA under 4.00, but he’s 31 and didn’t pitch last year. Risky.
Scott Feldman? If he actually earned a spot in the rotation, I predict an ERA of 5.00 (close to his career average). Feldman had one good season in 2009 and it will likely stay that way.
Carlos Villanueva? A bit more intriguing. If Garza, Samardzija, and Jackson are locks, then Villanueva has to beat out Wood or Baker. He was good at times with the Blue Jays, and I give him a 50/50 chance.
While all of these pitchers are decent, none of them have what it takes to be elite right away. With a bevy of 29-31 year olds, it doesn’t seem any of them will develop into great starters for years to come either.
That leaves Theo with a decent middle-aged rotation that’s going nowhere.
Any of these four guys could be No. 3 at best, but out of the rotation at worst. None of them have age working on their side. Perhaps Epstein is waiting for the Cubs to be close before he makes a splash in free agency.
With these pitchers, Epstein could be waiting a long time.