It’s no secret that the starting pitchers for the Cubs this year have struggled. Entering Wednesday, the Cubs ranked 22nd in baseball with an ERA of 4.71 for starting pitchers. For reference, the Cubs finished last year leading the league in starter ERA, at 2.96. Last year’s starters were so good, in fact, that the next closest team, the Nationals, had an ERA of 3.61.
The Cubs starters were historically good last year, so it’s reasonable to expect at least a bit of regression from the group this year. Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have held their own for most of this season, but after those two, the other three spots in the rotation have been inconsistent at best. Jake Arrieta sports an ERA of 4.60, and after leading the National League in H/9 each of the last two years, he’s allowing a mediocre 9.8 H/9 this year. John Lackey has been worse than Arrieta, owning an ERA of 5.18. Lackey has also become notorious for putting the Cubs in an early hole to begin the game, as he owns an ERA of 7.20 in the first inning, with opponents averaging a .329/.392/.667 line in the first frame. Brett Anderson and Eddie Butler have been pretty bad in the fifth spot, combining for a 6.47 ERA in their 10 starts.
With Arrieta and Lackey set to be free agents after this season, the Cubs find themselves in need for quality starting pitching, not only for this season, but the coming seasons as well. With that being said, let’s examine a few starting pitchers the may become available over the next two months.
The Rays find themselves a game over .500 and only five games back in the competitive AL East, but they will most likely find themselves as sellers come July. Archer is off to one of the best starts of his career, owning a 4-3 record, an ERA of 3.61, and striking out nearly 11 batters per nine innings. Archer is averaging 95.3 miles per hour for his fastball, which is the highest of his career. Archer had a bit of a down year last season, thanks to an uncharacteristically high home run per fly ball rate of 16.2 percent. This year, Archer sports a HR/FB rate of 8.8 percent, much closer to his career average of 11.1 percent. Additionally, Archer sports a FIP of 2.80, which is good for third in all of baseball, above names like Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel. Archer has two additional years left on his contract, but it also comes with two team options in 2020 and 2021. Assuming both of those options are exercised, Archer is under control for four more years at $34 million. That’s insanely cheap for an ace in his prime, as Archer would be a free agent after his age-32 season. Acquiring Archer would also add an ace to what is already a very formidable playoff rotation in Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jake Arrieta. Archer won’t come cheap however, expect a Chris Sale-like haul to pry him from the cash-strapped Rays.
Sticking with the Rays, Alex Cobb is another piece that could be dealt in July. Cobb is set to be a free agent after this season, but he’s a quality starter that the Cubs could use in October. Cobb owns a 3.67 ERA in 2017, and has a career ERA of 3.47, an impressive feat when pitching in the AL East. After missing the entire 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery, Cobb started five games for the Rays last year. After an unimpressive five starts in 2016, Cobb is beginning to look like himself again in 2017. Cobb has a 55.3 career ground ball percentage, and he has the highest average fastball velocity of his career this year. Cobb would be a rental, but a solid one in that. He won’t cost nearly as much as Archer, and his ground ball inducing ways would bode well at Wrigley.
Completing the Rays trifecta is Jake Odorizzi. Odorizzi is the youngest of the three Rays, turning 27 earlier this year in March. Odorizzi owns a 3.14 ERA this year, but his peripherals suggest that he’s due for regression. Odorizzi has an insanely high 86.6 left on base percentage, meaning that only one in seven baserunners that reach against him score. The league average for LOB percentage is 71 percent. Furthermore, Odorizzi has a FIP of 4.68, a full run and a half higher than his ERA. Odorizzi is an extreme fly ball pitcher, owning a career 34.4 GB percent. Add in the fact that 16.1 percent of his fly balls are home runs, he has regression written all over him. Odorizzi does come with two additional years of control via arbitration, but I think this is someone the Cubs should stay away from.
Gray is someone who’s been linked to the Cubs for a while, and this could be the year that they finally land him. Gray doesn’t have a sexy line at first glance, but there are a lot of positives to draw from. While he has 4.72 ERA, he has a 4.00 FIP, and 3.25 xFIP. The long ball has plagued Gray this year, as more than 21 percent (!!) of the fly balls that he has given up have turned into home runs. Gray has a career 54.4 GB percentage and a 60.0 GB percentage this season, suggesting that he has been subject to a bit of bad luck. Gray does come with a bit of injury concern, as he missed time last year and the beginning of this year with muscle strains. Gray’s velocity is just above his career norms, so maybe that will relieve some who are weary of another injury. Like Odorizzi, Gray also has two more years of control via arbitration. He’ll be cheaper than Archer, albeit with less control, but Gray would be a very solid addition the the Cubs pitching staff going forward.
The Rangers are 11 games behind the Astros, but they’re only a game under .500, so it’s too early to label them sellers at this point. If they do decide to call it quits in July, Darvish may be the first to go. Darvish is a free agent after this season, but he’ll arguably be the best short term rental available at the deadline. Darvish owns a 5-3 record to go along with a 2.97 ERA this year, and while his strikeouts are down, he’s still striking out more than a batter per inning. Adding Darvish would give the Cubs the best rotation of any team in the playoffs, but he will come at a considerable cost.
The Mariners have been trying to contend for a number of years, as evident by the signing of Robinson Cano, the Felix Hernandez extension, and the acquisition of
Dan Vogelbach Jean Segura. Things haven’t worked out quite like they had hoped, and with the Astros looking like one of the best teams in baseball for the foreseeable future, it may be time for a rebuild. Trading James Paxton would be a good start towards a rebuild for the Mariners. Paxton is coming off the DL on Wednesday to face the Rockies, but prior to his DL stint, he was 3-0 with a 1.43 ERA, while striking out nearly 11 batters per nine. The left-handed fireballer is averaging 95.9 miles per hour on his fastball, which would be the fifth-highest of any starter in baseball, if he qualified. Paxton owns a 3.20 career ERA, so it’s clear that he has the stuff to succeed as a starter, it’s just a matter of staying healthy for him. Paxton is a Super-2 player, so he has three additional years of control via arbitration going forward. The cost of acquiring Paxton might be prohibitive, but he would be a stellar addition to the Cubs rotation.
With only Lester and Hendricks certain to be in the rotation next year, the Cubs are going to have to acquire starting pitching one way or another. It’s supposed to be a buyer’s market this year, so the time may be right to acquire a frontline starter within the next couple of months.
Which pitcher would you like to see most in a Cubs uniform this coming fall?
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