The Cubs, according to 670thescore.com’s Bruce Levin, have outbid every other team in terms of both years and dollars in their pursuit of 25 year old Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka. This is a rather difficult thing to do when competing against the the Dodgers and Yankees, who seem to have more generosity and expendable resources than Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, but there is a very good reason for GM Theo Epstein’s unparalleled offer: young pitching is one of the only things the Cubs’ sorely lack.
Sure, they acquired C.J. Edwards and Neil Ramirez from the Rangers over the summer, but the former has never pitched above A ball and the latter is just one year removed from a season in which he posted a 6.28 ERA. First round draft pick Pierce Johnson is an adequate prospect, but his ceiling isn’t much higher than that of a number three starter.
Their major league rotation isn’t a fountain of talented youth either, with Travis Wood standing as the only pitcher under the age of 27. Chris Rusin is nothing more than a number five starter – he struck out less than five batters per nine last season – and Jake Arietta has never been able to channel his raw ability onto the field, posting a 4.94 FIP with the Cubs in 2013.
Meanwhile, Edwin Jackson had a 4.98 ERA last season and the oft-touted Jeff Samardjiza has been unable to reach a contract extension with Chicago and has thus been aggressively shopped. Even Wood, the staff’s most promising member, has concerns as his 3.11 ERA was aided by an unsustainable .248 Babip and was thus far better than his 3.89 FIP or 4.50 xFIP.
Compare that with their hitting depth, which is just about as deep, as close to major league ready, and as talented as that of any other team in baseball. Obviously there will be bumps in the road and not every prospect will pan out, but if all were to go perfectly, the Cubs would be set in the coming years with a highly talented player under the age of 26 at almost every spot on the diamond.
In the outfield, sixth overall pick Albert Almora will will roam center, with Cuban Jorge Soler and his 30 million dollar amateur contract patrolling right. There is no clear long term candidate for left field, although Junior Lake could fill that void; his impending sophomore season should be a good barometer of his overall abilities.
The second overall pick from last year’s draft, Kris Bryant, should be instilled at the hot corner before long and the well travelled Anthony Rizzo is already entrenched at first. Assuming Starlin Castro bounces back after an anemic 2013 season, he will remain at short, the monstrous power of Javier Baez standing across from him at second.
Finally Welington Castillo should stay behind the plate, where he led all major league catchers in defensive WAR last season.
Within a couple seasons, Chicago’s lineup could be one of the best and cheapest in baseball, but the rotation has no clear potential. The youth and low salary of their hitters should leave plenty of payroll space to sign Tanaka, who could provide long term stability and the ace that this team will desperately need. There isn’t another 25 year old starter of his caliber coming onto the open market in the foreseeable future, perhaps not ever.