The Chicago Cubs are finding themselves to be in a position that they haven’t been in for quite some time, they’re stacked. For the better part of a quarter century the “Loveable Losers” (A moniker which I truly despise and will hopefully disappear into the mist after this season) haven’t had a lot to brag about depth-wise. There have been well-known players, All-Stars and even a Hall of Famer. However, for the most part, these “North-side” uniforms have been filled with journeyman and young players unable to live up to their potential. Enter Theo Esptein and Jed Hoyer. Since 2011 these two men have been working tiredlessly to turn around an organization synonymous with losing. Now, four years later, we begin to see the spoils of their efforts in a depth chart that any other major league team would be jealous of.
Although many position battles can be mentioned here, the one we’re focusing on today is that which is taking place on the mound of Sloan Park in Mesa, AZ: That of the pitching rotations fifth spot. As Cubs manager Joe Maddon has mentioned, barring any unforeseen circumstances, his pitching rotation will start as follows: Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks. Even Hendricks’ spot was up for discussion until spring training began but Maddon put that notion to rest in the first few days.
There are quite a few scenarios in play when it comes to the number five-spot for the Cubs’ rotation, but for all intents and purposes it seems to be Travis Wood‘s to lose. Wood, 28, has been a staple for the Cubs since 2012. He’s had 89 starts for the Cubs and in that time owns a 4.08 ERA to go along with 409 strike outs and 196 walks (A very respectable 2/1 ratio.) He’s also an accomplished hitter. As a Cub he carries a .215/.242/.372 slash line with six doubles, seven homeruns and 22 RBI’s. After an All-Star performance in 2013 Wood’s command almost completely fell off in 2014. A comeback isn’t out of the question for this Arkansas southpaw, and you probably couldn’t find a more ideal situation either.
Edwin Jackson is probably the next candidate in line although the only good thing that came from his abysmal 2014 campaign is the gluttony of his checking out (With a gratuitously over payed $11 million salary.) Although he did fatten his ERA as well boasting a rotund 6.33 in only 140 2/3 innings of “work.” His velocity fell off for the third year in a row which lead to him being pulled from the rotation, therefore only making the bench worse in comparison. I would not advise optimism about Jackson, 31, for the 2015 season. A trade would be optimal but unlikely since no one really wants to take on so much money for someone as underperforming as Jackson’s been. A cut is a long shot as well since the Cubs don’t want to eat that money either. He may just find himself on the bench again in 2015. I just hope his trade-disrupting contract doesn’t push him into the rotation, thus forcing Wood onto the trading block by default.
Next up on the list is Tsuyoshi Wada. A pro in Japan since 2003, he’s been a solid pitcher his entire career. Wada, 34, earned a starting spot on his Japanese squad right out of the gate in 2003, also winning “Most Valuable Rookie” honors. He’s pitched for multiple Japanese Olympic teams and has also represented his country in the Baseball Classic. He came to the states at the end of 2011 signing a deal with the Baltimore Orioles. In 2012 Wada has Tommy John surgery and he has been working his way back into the “Bigs” ever since, signing a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs in 2014. He finally got his first major league start in the summer of 2014 versus the Cincinnati Reds. He’s been impressive in his short stint in the Majors. In 13 starts Wada has a 3.25 ERA in 69 1/3 innings pitched, tallying 57 strike outs and 19 walks. Although he no longer has youth on his side, Wada could surprise a lot of people this year, and at worst earn a long-reliever spot in the bull pen.
Felix Doubront wants to start. There’s only one issue: He lacks command. There’s no real explanation for it. He just easily loses concentration. That would also appear why Boston didn’t hesitate to send him over to the Cubs in 2014; I think they saw the raw talent but were fed up waiting for it to materialize. Epstein and Hoyer have shown more than a little willingness to give second and third chances to former Boston talent that didn’t pan out on the East coast. We’ll see how he’s trained in this off-season, but it’ll be an uphill battle for the 27-year-old Venezuelan. He’s coming into 2015 with 438 1/3 innings under his belt but in that time has given up 453 hits and 193 walks for a WHIP of 1.474. Pitchers come back from having command issues, but not as often as one might think.
Jacob Turner‘s best stint in the Majors was for the Florida Marlins. The only issue there is that was 2012-2013, and part of 2014. In 2012 his ERA was a respectable 3.38 jumping to a robust 5.97 for Florida in 2014 before coming to the Cubs and then allowing it to climb even further. He’s shown promise this spring but like many of his counterparts, hasn’t been tested yet for endurance. His season high for innings pitched is 118 for Miami in 2013. He could also use some work on his off speed pitches, since he gave up a career high 83.6 contact percentage in 2014 for the Cubs.
It’s difficult to guess what route the Cubs will take to finish off their rotation for the 2015 campaign, but on the plus side, it’s awful nice to only have to worry about one slot this year in Spring Training. A spot, that for the moment, is Travis Wood’s to lose.