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On Tyler Chatwood, Oscar De La Cruz, and ripples through the Cubs system

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Here’s what could happen going forward from some of the Cubs’ current pitching troubles.

Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Perhaps you’ve never read an article of mine before. Perhaps you’ve been reading my opinions for over a decade. Or somewhere in between. Whichever way, this article was almost written for me. It’s a summary of what I write about in baseball. This is a look at Tyler Chatwood, Oscar De La Cruz, and the seemingly self-evident ripples from their recent falls from grace.

Here’s a bit of a trade secret. You may know that my dad is a retired minister. Through my formative years, my schedule was a bit Groundhog Day. Every Sunday, my dad would deliver a message. Through the week, he would have meetings, counseling sessions, people to meet in the hospital, then, a message the next Sunday.

The way that worked, when I was growing up, was this. And no, it isn’t religious or preachy, despite the book in question. The Religious Calendar would have three specific “texts” around which the message for the week would revolve. For instance, in any week, there might be 20-some “verses” from Exodus, 18 verses from Galatians, and thirty from Luke.

The basic premise was the same. Here are the stories. Figure something to talk about that fits the audience. Oftentimes, Saturday night dinner, and yes our family had Saturday night dinner, was about finishing off the sermon.

A few times a month, at Saturday night dinner, partway through, “So, here’s where I am.” He’d go over basically where he was in his sermon for Sunday, and my mom would interrupt with something that was along the same lines that had happened at work. Or in the national news. Perhaps I’d have a sports nugget, Or, you get the picture. The five of us (I have two brothers) would put together something that was topical, and in line with the texts for the week.

***

On Friday night, I was going to write something similar to this on the Oscar De La Cruz suspension. I really don’t prefer the newsy “De La Cruz Suspended” type of story. I’ll do those as needed, but the handcuffs (and time clocks) are rather tight on those stories. Not much room to weave in nuggets or vignettes.

I was sleeping through the “ugly” part of Saturday’s game. I had the World Cup matches on since they had started when I was going to sleep, and I was roused by yet another close match. I saw the Cubs score, and Twitter being burned at the stake. By the time the Cubs were finished, the Tennessee Smokies had begun their doubleheader sweep, and my night was covered.

***

As to Chatwood, many people had ideas for the short-term. “Trade him.” “DFA him.” “Send him to Iowa.” “Put him on the Disabled List.”

While the DL may be possible, the others range from unlikely to disallowed under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The reality is, while the Chatwood appearances have been rather unacceptable so far, the team has relatively few choices.

He might be injured. He might be broken. However, the money spent for three years has already been spent. Unlike in seasons past, bad contracts have blowback. Teams going over specified levels pay consequences when they purchase the services of free agents who refused to accept a qualifying offer. Bryce Harper figures to do that. Manny Machado might end up doing that.

While it’s possible the Cubs don’t shop for a major free agent who declined a qualifying offer this off-season, it’s quite likely they will. If they add a major piece such as that, they will lose international spending money. The punishment is more if the team spends “over the limit” the preceding season. The Cubs are precariously close now. Making two somewhat significant additions, or one major one, puts them in bonus phase. Which isn’t desired.

***

De La Cruz was suspended for 80 games. He is on the shelf, though off the 40-man roster, until late April. (Yes, it seems rather bizarre that the team gets a benefit from a player being suspended, but so it is.)

With De La Cruz suspended, Adbert Alzolay shelved for the season, and Yu Darvish and Drew Smyly not ready to pitch yet, the Cubs starting pitching in the system is very compromised. No, you don’t likely care who the starting pitcher is for the Smokies next Tuesday, but the games have to be played. And the teams need available arms,

Chatwood being ineffective, and De La Cruz suspended, aren’t the same story. However, like on a Saturday night from my youth, they were intimately related texts that told a rather simple, basic tale.

The Cubs are currently very short on starting pitching. That can’t be aggressively argued. If Chatwood is shelved, the Cubs could plug in Duane Underwood Jr. Who might, or might not, do better. Plugging in Underwood extends and potentially exacerbates the problem. After all, pitchers in a pipeline are supposed to be “at their level,” not submerged. (I miss Jeffry Antigua right about now. Antigua would pitch as a starter or reliever at any level in the pipeline without much fuss. I wonder what he’s up to now.)

They could trade for someone from another team. Matt Harvey was mentioned. Two problems here, though neither is insurmountable. Adding Harvey (or anyone else) costs “money against the cap limits,” which is quite important this time around in every state except Massachusetts. Any trades also cost prospects, which could be trading a long-term solution for a short-term band-aid that might not adequately cover the wound.

***

As such, the “solution” won’t necessarily fix anything. I’m really not good at short-term fixes. However, for as long as I’ve written about baseball and before, my message has largely been the same. I’ve simply had different stories to weave. The best way to solve any problem long-term is to properly fix it internally.

Cubs fans used to say the Cubs had a perennial hole at third base. They made an astute trade for Aramis Ramirez. Then, they drafted Kris Bryant. They were useless in center field. They traded for Dexter Fowler to stabilize the situation until Albert Almora Jr. arrived.

The pitching? Free agents are a band-aid, pure and simple, if this “long term success” thing is going to work. Jon Lester and Yu Darvish are to get through until some of the youngsters are ready to represent. Aroldis Chapman, Wade Davis, Brandon Morrow, and others are/were place-holders until relief prospects toiling in the pipeline are ready to be long-term answers that can be returned to Iowa for a few years when they aren’t successful.

Many people want to argue, use non-applicable solutions, and rage-tweet over a case of frustration. I grasp that. However, knowing the “sending a guy back to Iowa” rules a bit better, using a long-term outlook, and having a bit of faith in how the system is supposed to work does wonders on blood pressure spikes.

The Chatwood concerns will fade. Or they won’t. You aren’t the most frustrated over his season. (He likely is.) This site is far more in-tune with realism than many sectors of the Cubs universe. This isn’t new news for most of you. However, a topical review of a long-passed down series of beliefs makes for a nice review on occasion.

While De La Cruz, Alzolay, and Jose Albertos haven’t had good seasons, South Bend (A), Myrtle Beach (Advanced-A), and Tennessee (Double-A) are sending out interesting starters 80 percent of the time or more. That wasn’t the case a decade ago. Underwood and Trevor Clifton are pitching well in Triple-A, and Jen-Ho Tseng along with Alec Mills could emergency cover a start, as well.

If you want to add to the conversation constructively, know which pitchers are advancing through the system. Realize that “waiver claims” can become Randy Rosario on occasion. And realize that grabbing “an available arm” at the waiver fee could be considered a trade-off on De La Cruz being suspended. (I’m still a fan of Preston Guilmet in that sense. If only for innings at Iowa, where the starter on some nights is “cleaning out the refrigerator casserole.”)

The Cubs are in a good place. The more restraint the Cubs can use might force the Brewers into a bad long-term decision. That decision might hurt the Cubs in 2018. It might even hurt a bit in 2019. However, if the Brewers trade long-term assets for short-term hopes, it should help the Cubs long term.

***

As dinner would conclude on Saturday, we’d have a rather good idea if the message worked for “us.” We were intrigued to see if it would work as a coherent idea the next morning. It usually did. There are times I really miss those Saturday nights. We knew what was coming, and we wanted out nuggets tossed in with the rest.

In the end, it gets rather simple. If Cory Abbott, Alex Lange, Paul Richan, Keegan Thompson, and/or some mix of a dozen others are useful in the future, we’ll laugh. We’ll laugh about sweating over the Tyler Chatwood starts like we now laugh over the lineups with Cody Ransom hitting fifth.

If the basics are done properly, everything else takes care of itself without much need for worry. Which is what I’ve been saying for years. It’s no different now than ten years ago. Or thirty. Or seventy. If you properly develop your own talent, you have fewer questions to answer externally. Start there, and your discussions are far different that if you think the traditional randomness of baseball is an enemy.