The Rundown: Thoughts on Cubs Pitching Overhaul, Quintana as Ace, Big Moves Pending

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. I can’t translate the genius of William Shakespeare into innocuous sports euphemisms the way that former Bears head coach Mike Ditka has, but the truth of the matter is that being the king is a lot tougher than trying to overthrow him. 

The events of baseball’s offseason tend to make us forget just how strong a squad the Cubs are. A lifeless 11-1 loss to the Dodgers in the clinching game of the 2017 NLCS and the potential losses of Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis to free agency certainly left us to cast aspersions toward this team’s future. Since the end of October, the biggest weakness — and something the team has been diligently working to correct — has been the pitching staff.

It is important to note that the Cubs already have their replacement for Arrieta in house. That’s Jose Quintana, acquired at last season’s trade deadline for OF Eloy Jimenez and pitcher Dylan Cease. Though that deal was made with the short-term intention of shoring up the rotation for the postseason run, the long tail and bifurcated motive was to essentially replace the staff ace were he to sign elsewhere. And now it’s almost assured that Arrieta has likely priced himself out of the team’s current budget. Aside from the fact that Quintana now leads the staff in projected WAR at 4.4, a huge part of his appeal is that he is just massively, massively underpaid relative to his performance.

With a full season of Quintana, and substituting Tyler Chatwood for Lackey, the Cubs still have the Central Division’s strongest rotation, one that may or may not need a new fifth member depending on how the front office and manager Joe Maddon decide to deploy Mike Montgomery this season. No doubt their pursuit of another starter remains secondary to finishing the overhaul of the bullpen. 

With that in mind, re-signing Wade Davis or trading for someone such as Zach Britton may be more important than signing Alex Cobb, whose market appears to be escalating uncomfortably. I find it difficult to rationalize paying a fourth starter up to $20 million per season just because your ace represents baseball’s biggest bargain through the 2020 season. That type of folly will handcuff any team going forward. Though Chatwood seems similarly expensive, the front office believes he has untapped value, based at least partly on the high spin-rate of his curveball, which was largely negated by the altitude in Colorado.

I know the thought of adding another one-season rental at closer seems unappealing, but Britton is inexpensive, suits the team’s current needs, and leaves more options for the 2019 season and beyond. His acquisition cost may not include anybody on the major league roster. If the Cubs decide to go with a closer-by-committee approach — and trading for Britton wouldn’t necessarily change that plan — it may enable Maddon to use Dillon Maples in lower-leverage save situations to get him accustomed to closing at the major league level.

As fans, we focus so much on which players the team might or should trade or acquire that we tend to forget that this is a top four team in all of baseball and one capable of winning a world championship as the roster currently stands. Despite the fact that divisional and league rivals appear to be improving their teams, the Cubs still sit ahead of the Cardinals and the Brewers on paper. The Cubs remain positioned to win the Central Division, and playing for a fourth consecutive league championship is certainly an attainable goal with this squad.

Cubs News & Notes

I find the Manny Machado and Yu Darvish rumors entertaining and far-fetched. That being said, Evan Altman gave a great analysis of the Cubs’ future options stemming from a potential trade involving Addison Russell and his four years of team control for one year of Machado. On that subject, Brendan Miller showed us why we may be undervaluing Russell’s current and future contributions.

Despite acquiring SS Freddy Galvis, the Cubs and Padres match up well in a potential trade for Javy Baez. The Cubs could net RP Brad Hand and a few other pieces in trading Baez to the Friars.

Why Darvish? The price and length of the contract that Cobb is allegedly seeking appears to be too prohibitive for the front office.

Trusting the process: Jim Harbaugh has bought into Theo Epstein’s vision and is modeling his plan for Michigan football using the Cubs’ organizational blueprint as part of its own architecture.

Weekend Stove

Braves GM Alex Anthopolous stunned baseball yesterday, orchestrating a five-player blockbuster with the Dodgers. By ridding themselves of Matt Kemp, the Braves have cleared the way for young OF phenom Ronald Acuña. In acquiring Brandon McCarthy, the team has arguably the best fifth starter in all of baseball. The Braves also received SP Scott Kazmir, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, utility player Charlie Culberson and $4.5 million for Kemp. Gonzalez was immediately given his release by Atlanta. 

The swap of five players and a lot of bad contracts gives the Dodgers salary cap relief and helps to get the team under the luxury tax in advance of the 2018 season.

With the acquisitions of Marcell Ozuna, Luke Gregerson and Miles Mikolas, the Cardinals have created a win-now-or-else atmosphere for the organization. All three players’ contracts expire after the 2019 season and Adam Wainwright is now entering his walk year. Look for the Cardinals to continue to be aggressive, though the pattern suggests they will only do short-term deals. 

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo sounds like he is desperately trying to convince himself that Bryce Harper wants to stay in Washington after the 2018 season.

By signing with the Los Angeles Angels, Shohei Ohtani will finally give Mike Trout a national stage. John Harper offers this and nine other takeaways from last week’s Winter Meetings.

The Brewers are bringing back SP Yovani Gallardo on a one-year deal.

The Phillies have done quite a bit this winter to change the face of the team. In addition to trading Galvis, the they have signed 1B Carlos Santana and have enough money left to sign either Darvish or Arrieta, and still make a run at Machado or Harper next season.

The Giants are presumably clearing payroll in an attempt to pursue free-agent OF J.D. Martinez.

SP C.C. Sabathia has re-upped with the Yankees. The Yankees are also discussing a deal to acquire SP Gerrit Cole from the Pirates. The Yankees are said to be willing to include Clint Frazier while the Pirates have expressed interest in Gleyber Torres.

Free-agent 3B Todd Frazier wouldn’t mind returning to the Yankees as well. 

Oakland A’s OF Dustin Fowler is suing the White Sox over his gruesome leg injury last season, claiming negligence in failing to secure the unpadded electrical box he collided with.

Derek Jeter sympathizes with Marlins fans. Sure he does. The biggest issue facing the team historically has been a poor revenue stream created by lousy attendance. Trading away their three best players is going to make the team an even tougher sell, not just to fans, but to commercial sponsors and broadcast outlets.

Sunday Walk Up Song

Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins, During the course of writing this post, Loggins vehicles “Caddyshack,” “Footloose” and “Top Gun” have played consecutively on Showtime. I’m ear-wormed to death.

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