We’ve talked about the Cubs’ need for a heat-throwing top-of-rotation starter, but what Chicago’s North Side baseballers really need is a shutdown closer. I have a lot of confidence in the starters. They were magnificent in the second half, and substituting Jameson Taillon for Wade Miley makes them even better. Jed Hoyer has added plenty of depth, too. Like the rest of the roster, the current rotation is mostly high-floor players who do not get any love from MLB pundits, not that any belong on the list below.
Corbin Burnes is the king among the aces!
Who’s in your top 10? pic.twitter.com/7HY3Bky9ig
— MLB (@MLB) February 2, 2023
Back in September of 2021, David Ross indicated he needed two bona fide starters. The Cubs added Miley, Marcus Stroman, and Drew Smyly last year, and made Taillon their big arm this year. Then you have the emergence of Justin Steele, though a few readers aren’t sold on him. I’m not ready to buy that Kyle Hendricks will regain his old form by adding a tick or two to his fastball. If he’s healthy, he’s one of the best No. 4 or 5 starters in the league.
Let’s look at some of the numbers and see what 2023 may look like.
- Cubs starters had a 2.89 ERA in the final 70 games of 2022, third-best in the majors.
- Hayden Wesneski had a 2.18 ERA in six starts after the Cubs acquired him from the Yankees for Scott Effross.
- Adrian Sampson started 19 games last season with a spiffy 3.11 ERA. Sampson pitched six innings or more in four of his final five starts and allowed a maximum of one run in each outing, which dropped his ERA by nearly a full point.
- Javier Assad had a 3.11 ERA in eight second-half starts.
- Stroman allowed two runs or less in six of his 12 post-deadline starts.
- Smyly allowed two runs or less in eight of his final nine starts, his one dog coming against the Cardinals when he lost 8-4 on September 19.
- Steele had a 1.47 ERA with 59 strikeouts in nine second-half starts. If he can get his pitch count down, he’s an ace.
- Taillon was 14-5 with the Yankees last season and was remarkably consistent.
The rotation is fine, but the Cubs need a reliable closer. Chicago was 26-27 in one-run games and 7-12 in extra innings last year. The Cardinals were 26-17 and 8-4, respectively a difference of nine games. Though the Cubs added Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger, Eric Hosmer, and Trey Mancini, the roster isn’t built to blow out a lot of teams.
Brad Boxberger probably isn’t going to own the 9th inning. Maybe it’s Brandon Hughes, who’s currently first in line followed by some combination of Boxberger, Rowan Wick, and Codi Heuer. Jeremiah Estrada has the best stuff among the reliever corps and could emerge as the team’s closer. Manuel Rodríguez was optioned to Iowa last week and will have to work to earn back any spot in the bullpen.
If Estrada meets the very lofty expectations mentioned in the above-referenced post by Evan Altman, the Cubs could close the gap on the Redbirds significantly. I admit Chicago’s rotation doesn’t look as strong as Milwaukee’s on paper or in reputation, but the stats are much more promising. If the starters can pitch as they did in the second half of 2022, the Cubs could challenge for a Wild Card or even a division title. They’ve got to win those close games, though.
On paper, Chicago is a 77-78 win team. I’m taking the over based on the rotation and potential of Estrada. It’s not just about last season, though. If the team’s starters prove that type of consistency all year, they’re going to dominate. You won’t lose a high number of games with a 2.89 ERA and a lights-out closer.
If I really wanted to overhype Chicago’s pitching staff, I’d tell you that type of profile reminds me a lot of the 1995 Braves. I’m not comparing Steele, Stroman, Wesneski, and Taillon to the careers of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz because that would be pure folly. But if you scale last year’s second half to 162 games, the single-season comparison is not far off statistically. I realize that sounds a little too Pollyannaish, but hope springs eternal.
Cubs News & Notes
- The Cubs received plenty of prospect love from ESPN on Wednesday.
- Speaking of prospects, Miguel Amaya has resumed work behind the plate and Ed Howard is expected to start the season at one of Chicago’s minor league affiliates.
- Hoyer mentioned that the team is hoping Bellinger can build value by reestablishing himself offensively, and said that the outfielder’s attitude during contract negotiations stood out.
- I mentioned in my last Rundown that relievers Andrew Chafin, Matt Moore, and Zack Britton are all looking for $9 million or more to sign. With pitchers and catchers set to report in two weeks, we’re past that now. The Cubs need one more reliever and Hoyer may find a bargain or two among those three lefties. Caleb Smith, Michael Fulmer, Brad Hand, and Will Smith are still available as well.
- We also talked about finding value in a potential Nick Madrigal trade with the White Sox. Lefty Aaron Bummer would be a nice target but the Cubs would need a kicker. An under-the-radar pitcher I like is righty prospect Jared Kelley.
- Keith Law of The Athletic ranked the Cubs’ farm system No. 10 overall ($). He also said he expects Chicago to take another leap up after this season. “To be honest, I thought they’d end up higher on the list, but perhaps I was a year early with those expectations, which were mostly built around the group of position players in A-ball and the Arizona Complex League this year, only one of whom, Kevin Alcántara, made my top 100.”
- Prospects 1500 also ranked the Cubs minor league system as 10th-best.
- I don’t mean to pressure the Cubs front office but it’s February and it’s time to announce those Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner contract extensions.
- Peacock Premium will stream at least two Cubs games this season.
Odds & Sods
If you don’t smile as soon as you see Harry Caray, you have no heart.
Legendary baseball announcer Harry Caray explains to David Letterman how he first started singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch! (1986) #MLB #Chicago #WhiteSox #Cubs pic.twitter.com/Yuwik8bCHc
— Baseball by BSmile (@BSmile) February 2, 2023
I am really struggling with rebounding after being sick. I spoke to my doctor last night and she said I could be fighting fatigue for months. The combination of a blood infection and a weakened immune system usually results in death, apparently, so I feel very lucky. I wasn’t aware that I was that sick, and I should have asked more questions while I was in the hospital. I’m, the “give me a shot of penicillin and send me home” patient. It doesn’t work that way, I guess.
I’m still trying to find my way into my old routine, and today I’m fighting a low-grade fever. I hope my content isn’t lacking, so thanks for sticking around to read me. On the plus side, I’ve lost 11 pounds. Hospital food will do that to you.
Also, I have some travel coming up. I’ll be in Tampa February 14-18, so The Rundown will probably be an evening edition that week. I am also going to be in Costa Rica at the end of May for liver function therapy. Two things: No, I did not get a spring training invite from the Yankees, and no, my medical treatment is not experimental. It’s just not covered by insurance and it costs five times as much in the US as it does in San Juan. The money I raised via GoFundMe two years ago will pay for it, and, if successful, I won’t have to go on the transplant list this year, my last year of eligibility.
I’m still trying to book a trip to Arizona for some Cactus League action, but it may not be in my budget this year.
This is pretty cool: As part of the celebration for National Girls and Women in Sports Day, Major League Baseball invited 75 college softball players to their offices for a day showcasing the variety of on- and off-the-field options available for anyone who wants to remain in the game.
With rule changes complete and harmony between the league and the union, Rob Manfred is now ready to tackle the prospect of expanding to 32 teams.
Here are 12 cities that are ripe for a new professional sports team.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
It’s arbitration season, and though the Cubs have no pending hearings, over 30 MLB players are waiting to find out how much they’ll earn this season. As an homage to the David Letterman post above, here are the top 10 contracts ever given to arb-eligible players.
- Shohei Ohtani $30M (2023)
- Mookie Betts $27M (2020)
- Nolan Arenado $26M (2019)
- Josh Donaldson $23M (2018)
- Bryce Harper $21.625M (2018)
- Francisco Lindor $21.3 (2021)
- Mookie Betts $20M (2019)
- David Price $19.75M (2015)
- Aaron Judge $19M (2022)
- Anthony Rendon $18.8M (2019)
I love this gig for my guy, Dexter Fowler.
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) February 2, 2023
They Said It
- “It was very clear from the minute we expressed interest after Cody [Bellinger] was non-tendered that he wanted a one-year deal in a place where he could reestablish his value. [He said] ‘I believe in myself, I want to go to a place and have success,’ and I felt like [this] could be that place.” – Hoyer
Thursday Walk-Up Song
There will be baseball before this month is over!