The Cubs priority since day one of the current administration has been to add pitching to the organization. And the front office’s focus has not changed four years later. The Cubs know the team is short on pitching, especially in the starting rotation.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer said a year ago the front office would be adding at least two impact, top of the rotation starters to the roster in the next 12-18 months. The Cubs signed Jon Lester and re-signed Jason Hammel last off-season and added them to Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks.
Injuries and under-performance wiped out the depth the front office thought would be available for the rotation and by June it was obvious the Cubs needed to add starting pitching to a team that got off to a good start, maintaining a record above .500 and ahead of a realistic timeframe to compete for a spot in the post-season tournament.
The Cubs spent a lot of time trying to pry Cole Hamels away from the Phillies and those attempts went well into the season up to the point Hamels was dealt to the Rangers on July 31. The Cubs were connected to several starting pitchers leading up to the deadline. But the deals linking the Cubs to bigger names were not made and the front office acquired Dan Haren from the Marlins to be the fifth starter for the final two-plus months of the regular season.
Jed Hoyer talked openly about the Cubs attempts to add pitching before the deadline during an interview last Friday on the Mully and Hanley Show (670 The Score). Hoyer was asked if the Cubs had any regrets about not trading any of the team’s assets for starting pitchers, despite the high-cost teams were paying. If the Cubs had known they would be playing deep into October, would they have made different decisions leading up to the deadline?
“We’d by lying to say that wasn’t something we talked about a lot in the office since then. The market at the deadline probably developed a little differently than we thought. There was less pitching available late because a bunch of teams held onto their guys. We really looked at it.”
“At that moment in time, we looked at it and made some super-aggressive offers involving a lot of our prospects for guys that we would control past this year,” Hoyer said. “We felt like it was worth giving up a lot of prospects if we could control the guy in 2016 and maybe even in 2017 and we weren’t that aggressive on the rental market. We felt that was the wrong thing to do given that we were looking at one-game playoff.”
The Cubs did not play well out of the All-Star break. By July 24, a week before the deadline, the Cubs were 51-44, third place in the division, 10 ½ games behind the Cardinals and a half game back of the Giants for the second Wild Card. The Cubs were swept by the Phillies at Wrigley, The Streak ended, most declared the season was over and by July 30, the Cubs were 54-47. The day before the deadline, the Cubs slipped to two full games behind San Francisco in the Wild Card race.
The Cubs started August by sweeping the Brewers and Giants in back-to-back weekend series and went on an incredible run to wrap up the regular season.
“If you want to look at a crystal ball you can definitely look in there right now maybe we should have given up a lot for a rental. And that is something we have to live with,” Hoyer said. “Maybe we should have done that. I think our decision making reasoning was very sound but honestly I think that we would have loved to have that kind of starter that we rented in maybe Game 3 or Game 4 of both the Cardinals’ series and the Mets’ series.”
Multiple reports leading up to the deadline indicated the Cubs were talking to the Indians, Padres, Phillies and Braves about their available starters. The Cubs were believed to be interested in Carlos Carrasco (Indians), Julio Teheran (Braves), Tyson Ross (Padres), Ian Kennedy (Padres) and possibly James Shields (Padres), plus Craig Kimbrel (Padres) to shore up the backend of the bullpen.
The Cubs are believed to be still be interested in Carrasco, Teheran and Ross, along with Danny Salazar (Indians) and Andrew Cashner (Padres) and are expected to rekindle those talks, if they haven’t already, with those teams this off-season.
The front office’s willingness to deal young position players for pitching at the deadline shows a shift in philosophy from last winter. The Cubs have the player currency on the Major League roster and in the system to acquire controllable, young arms.
The Cubs are at the point where self-scouting and player evaluation are vital to the team’s success moving forward. The price to acquire what the Cubs lack could be steep. But other than experience, it was obvious what the Cubs lacked in the second half and in October. It will be interesting to see how aggressive the front office will be this off-season to fill the Cubs biggest need.