The Cubs are going to add at least two pitchers to the starting rotation for 2007….that is a fact. Jim Hendry has been reiterating that point over and over again for weeks. Who they will add is anyone’s guess at this point and that is what makes the off-season so much fun. Rumors….who to believe who not to believe. But the bottom line is discussing baseball at the end of November is what makes this sport so special.
Several names have been mentioned in Cubs’ circles over the past couple of weeks….Gil Meche, Vicente Padilla and Ted Lilly but two names in particular are worth taking an extra look at….Jason Schmidt and Jake Westbrook. Both names moved to the front of the rumor mill earlier in the week so since pitching wins championships…. More information surfaced on Tuesday about the Cubs offering Schmidt a 3-year contract. The amount of the contract varied from source to source but the deal appeared to be on the table until the Cubs denied the reports they offered the contract later in the day. The Yankees were believed to be in the running for Schmidt but he has stated he did not want to pitch on the East Coast. Jon Heyman from SI.com mentioned the Mariners and Dodgers appear to be the favorite of Schmidt. The Dodgers just signed Randy Wolf and the Yankees just paid $26 million to negotiate with Kei Igawa not to mention resigning Mike Mussina. The bidding for Schmidt could end up being between the Mariners and the Cubs, but that is purely speculation at this point. But the real question is could Jason Schmidt help the Cubs win ballgames or as he lost too much to be effective for the next 3 to 4 years?
Jake Westbrook’s name surfaced again on Tuesday as well with a possible deal that could involve Ryan Dempster. The Indians have denied Westbrook is on the market but the Cubs did the same last winter with Prior….only time will tell.
The addition of both Westbrook and Schmidt to a rotation that includes Carlos Zambrano, Rich Hill and Wade Miller could be very interesting to say the least but Hill and Miller both have question marks surrounding how effective they will be next season…. Miller with his health issues and Hill has yet to pitch an entire season at the Major League level. Hill was unbelievable at the end of last season…. 3-1/1.93 with 50 k’s in 42 innings and only 10 walks – 6-3/2.93 after the All-Star break, 79 k’s in 80 innings and 24 walks with a 1.23 WHIP. Hill looked as if he had taken the next step and was frankly one of the only reasons to watch the Cubs last September. All signs point to Hill continuing to improve but if the Cubs can get a full season with an above .500 record they would have to be thrilled. Hill starting the season in the 4 or 5 spot and having the opportunity to move up might be the best scenario for the very talented southpaw.
Jake Westbrook was 4-2 with a 3.72 ERA down the stretch for the Indians but his most impressive stat is his ground out to fly out ratio….367 to 148, more than 2 to 1 and that would make Westbrook a valuable addition to the Cubs staff at Wrigley. Westbrook has a 2 to 1, strikeout to walk ratio and his 4.17 ERA with a 1.43 WHIP (4.35 career ERA, 1.39 WHIP) has to drop in the National League plus he will not be 30 until next August. But opponents did hit a robust .296 against him last season.
Jason Schmidt finished the season on a positive note but had an unbelievable May and June when he allowed just 17 earned runs in 81 1/3 innings (1.88 ERA), struck out 73 and walked just 21. He finished the season 11-9 with a 3.91 ERA with 180 k’s and 80 walks in 213 1/3 innings but he also allowed 21 home runs (.238 opponents batting average and a 1.26 WHIP). The stat that is concerning about Schmidt is his ground out to fly out ratio…. 154 to 226 but he is 5-3 in 11 games in his career at Wrigley with a 3.45 ERA, a .239 opponents batting average and has allowed 6 home runs in 70 1/3 innings. Most critics are concerned about Schmidt’s loss in velocity and some feel his age and diminishing skills are a concern.
Overpaying for Schmidt and trading for Westbrook could be the right moves at this point for the Cubs. Not only would they have a strong 1-2-3 in the rotation but if Hill pitches anywhere near the way he did at the end of last season and if Wade Miller can be half of the pitcher he once was, the Cubs should score enough runs to be very competitive next season.