Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Starting (Pitching) From the Beginning

For the past few years, the Cubs have been known for their starting pitching. Unfortunately, they have mostly been known for being injured. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have spent enough time on the DL the past three years to fill a career. Both pitchers held great promise for the Cubs, but neither pitcher has realized that potential.

In 2007, the Cubs need to build a staff of starting pitchers that they can count on. What does that mean? Well, the Cubs need to stop depending on pitchers that they have every reason to believe are going to be unavailable due to injury. If Mark Prior returns, the Cubs need to have a very good contingency plan. If Kerry Wood returns, the Cubs need to assume that he will only be available in the bullpen (if at all). And if they do re-sign him, it should be for a minimum amount ($1 million) with incentives so his signing doesn’t prevent the signing of other players.

The Cubs starting rotation in 2007 will probably look something like this:

1) Carlos Zambrano
2) (New FA Signing)
3) Mark Prior
4) Sean Marshall
5) Carlos Marmol/Angel Guzman/Rich Hill

So the Cubs will need to add a top-of-the-rotation pitcher and a long relief pitcher that can step in for Mark Prior when/if he goes down to injury again. So who might these pitchers be? Here are a few starting pitchers that will likely be available after the 2006 season;

Barry Zito (Oakland Athletics)
Andy Pettitte (Houston Astros)
Tom Glavine (New York Mets)
Orlando Hernandez (New York Mets)
Jason Marquis (St. Louis Cardinals)
Mark Mulder (St. Louis Cardinals)
Jason Schmidt (San Francisco Giants)
John Smoltz (Atlanta Braves)

Discussion: Zito is probably going to be the hottest FA on the market. Pettitte’s stock is down a bit right now, but will still be in demand. Tom Glavine has had a terrific career and is making 2006 into one of his best. Orlando Hernandez has had his moments, but is 5-8 right now with an ERA over 5.00. Jason Marquis is 11-6 at the All-Star break, but his ERA has ballooned to 5.55. Mark Mulder is having a tough year and is on the DL right now, but he’ll have plenty of suitors. Jason Schmidt has put together a first half that features a 2.78 ERA. John Smoltz is 39 years old, but he is still getting it done.

All of these pitchers are going to be in demand, and for some reason that makes people think that the Cubs don’t stand a chance of signing any of them. Excuse my French, but balderdash. Not only should the Cubs be in the running for a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, but they should be considered frontrunners. More on that in a couple of days.

My top three choices for top-of-the-rotation FA pitcher are:

1) Barry Zito
2) Jason Schmidt
3) Andy Pettitte

Also, I think it would be worthwhile to consider John Smoltz as the Cubs closer. He’ll be expensive, but a good closer is worth it.

The list of #5 starters/long relief guys is long. However, I'm not sure it is necessary to get one in FA. As you may have noticed above, there will be three guys battling for the #5 starter position. Why not have one of the two guys who don't get the #5 starter job work out of the bullpen as a long reliever? Brillant!


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