By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) After 101 losses – and 61 uninteresting wins – the 2012 Cubs season is finally, thankfully and mercifully over.
But, after a deep exhale yesterday, I found myself holding my breath this morning. And that’s because, as we eye 2013, I fear that the Cubs could be just as bad as they were this season – and perhaps, remarkably enough, even worse.
After all, for much of this year, the North Siders at least had a decent starting rotation. Come next season, though? Well …
Last week, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said that the organization plans to be a player in the free agent marketplace this winter, telling the media: “We’re obviously going to be active. I don’t think there’s any question about that.”
Perhaps not, Jed. But the question isn’t about the Cubs simply being active, it’s about getting some actual results. And, despite the team’s claim that they’ll be particularly aggressive in the search for starting pitching – “We certainly need to bolster our rotation,” Hoyer said in the understatement of the month – I have serious doubts about whether they’ll be able to accomplish anything really worth a darn this winter.
According to baseballprospectus.com, there are 34 starting pitchers who become free agents this offseason and do not have a 2013 option in their contract.
The roll call includes: Erik Bedard, Joe Blanton, Bartolo Colon, Aaron Cook, Kevin Correia, Ryan Dempster, Jeff Francis, Freddy Garcia, Zack Greinke, Jeremy Guthrie, Rich Harden, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Colby Lewis, Francisco Liriano, Kyle Lohse, Derek Lowe, Shaun Marcum, Jason Marquis, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Brandon McCarthy, Kevin Millwood, Jamie Moyer, Roy Oswalt, Carl Pavano, Anibal Sanchez, Jonathan Sanchez, Joe Saunders, Carlos Villanueva, Chien-Ming Wang, Kip Wells, Randy Wolf, Chris Young and Carlos Zambrano.
Now, I don’t see a whole lot of serious game-changers on that list, but even if I did, I wouldn’t expect them to be interested in the Cubs.
Right now, no top stars – especially starting pitchers – are going to want to join an inexperienced, 101-loss team that also comes with the pressure of chasing that oh-so-elusive championship at Wrigley Field. Certainly not when those guys can just as easily sign elsewhere and have a better chance of winning right now.
Since the Cubs aren’t going to be offering any Soriano-esque contracts to lure top players (nor should they be), the fact is that the team is going to have to win before they can sign elite free agents and, you know, win.
Such is the Catch-22 of the situation that the Cubs have put themselves – and their overpaying, overly patient fans – in thanks to the path that Theo Epstein & Co. have embarked upon.
Last week, Bleacher Report took an early look at possible destinations for what it considers the Top 30 free agents. Among them all, the Cubs were listed as a potential landing spot for just one: Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton.
Personally, I’d argue that Upton isn’t really what the Cubs need – not now or down the line – as I do like the collection of young position player talent that the team has compiled. Prospects such as Albert Almora and Jorge Soler – and probably even still Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters – deserve every chance to see how they pan out.
After all, if they don’t get such a chance, what’s the point of what the Cubs are doing?
What does truly worry me, however, is the Cubs’ lack of clear-cut, top-of-the-rotation-type pitching prospects. The team continues to “stockpile” arms as Esptein’s brass likes to say, but my question is whether any of these stockpiled arms are really anything more than just “arms.” If they include the guys that are ultimately going to help the Cubs win a theoretical World Series, that’s not at all clear.
Sure, fans can hope that the Cubs will simply sign a couple stud pitchers as free agents once the team is ready to really compete for a title, but them having the ability to do that at their whim is a huge assumption.
After all, the Cole Hamelses of the world often don’t even get to free agency. And if they do, the competition for such elite pitchers is guaranteed to be fierce. There’s no guarantee that the Cubs will nab the guy they truly want.
I hope this rebuilding plan that the Cubs brain trust has devised works, but I will say I have no appetite for another 100-loss season, even though that’s what I fear is on the menu for 2013.
And I’ll really be disheartened if this offseason, the Cubs do trade top pitcher Matt Garza in the hopes of getting exactly what back? Probably another Matt Garza.
As a 29-year-old heading into next season, Garza should still be a top talent whenever it is that the Cubs think they’re finally going to be ready to win it all. Unless, of course, that’s not until, say, 2019.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.