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Status: Pitching Staff
by alex ciepley
I took a quick glance at the status of the Cubs' starting position player the other day, and here's a look at the pitching staff.
What a difference a year makes. I had complete faith that Borowski was going to be fine this year as the closer. JoBo hadn't been good in just 2003, as many of the pundits squawked in the early going this past spring; he was excellent in 2002 as well. I hadn't counted on an arm injury knocking some MPH off his fastball, though. I now have my doubts that he'll ever be the reliable reliever he once was, but the Cubs will get to find out -- he's signed for next year at $2.3M.
Back in March of 2002, the Cubs traded Julian Tavarez and some prospects for "elite" closer Antonio Alfonseca... and salary dump victim Matt Clement. Clement was seen as an all-talent, no-performance disappointment, but since that trade he's been the best player in the deal -- and yes, I'm including Dontrelle Willis in the discussion. Mattie's time with the Cubs was an unexpected pleasure, despite this season's Lack-o-run-support Blues, but he won't be back with the team next year. Pedro and Clemens are the two free agent pitchers with the grandest history, Pavano has the biggest hype, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if Clement ends up being the smartest signing.
The Cubs have a $2.0M option on Dempster for 2005 that they seem extremely likely to pick up. Oh how I wish they wouldn't.
Brilliant one moment, a jackass the next. What to do with Farnsworth? The Cubs still have the rights to him, though he is going to start getting expensive compared to what he provides. He made $1.4M last year, and is eligible for arbitration again. Is he on the trade market, and if so, what is his perceived value?
Yes, he has trouble with the ninth inning. But Hawkins was still the Cubs' best reliever last year, and his salary for next year will actually drop $500K to $3.5M. A couple of observations on Hawkins: 1) he gave up a lot more home runs this year than in his previous two, a new hobby he'll hopefully ditch next year. 2) Hawkins had a 4.13 ERA in 28.3 innings pitched on zero days rest (i.e. back-to-back appearances), allowing 8 of the 10 home runs in these games. Meanwhile, he had a 1.84 ERA in 53.6 innings pitched with at least one day of rest. I'm just sayin'...
Leicester should be back for a second season in the Cubbie bullpen. His debut featured some nice moments, a solid K-rate (7.56/9), a few too many walks, and too many big flies allowed. He made $300K last year, and won't make much more than that next.
Was Maddux worth the $6.0M he made last year? Probably. There were plenty of pitchers who made less and performed better, but there were also plenty who made a lot more (Morris, Brown) and performed a lot worse. Maddux's season compares to Russ Ortiz and Woody Williams, both of whom had similar salaries. Throw in some 300-Win highlights and some feel-good nostalgia moments, and it's a no-brainer. Will Maddux be worth the $9.0M he's owed next year, though? If he continues to give up 527 home runs a year, it's unlikely.
Mercker put together a nice year for the Cubs, but the team is willing to let him go. I think the Cubs may have caught a dash of bottled lightning with Mercker this year (ZiPs sees an ERA over 5.00 for next year.), so I'm not too upset if he leaves. Mercker made $1.2M last year.
Mitre was great in AAA last year (2.98 ERA, 102.7 innings, 95/39 K/BB, only 9 home runs), but wasn't so hot with the Cubs (6.62 ERA). He'll only be 25 next year, and his minor league numbers are promising. I'd guess his name would come up often in trade talks with the Cubs.
Winner of the Most Likely Cub To Return Next Year award. Also nominated in the Likely To Be Underrated Entering 2005 category. Prior had a minor injury this past year. An annoying, minor injury that was slow to heal and threw off his command when he came back. He will make $3.0M next year (the extra $500K is due to his 2003 All Star selection), though he has a clause that says he can opt-out of his contract to arbitration. I'm not even sure if he'd be eligible for arbitration, and I don't know that it would be a smart financial move either, given the year he had.
Remy will be back for a final year. He'll make $3.8M, a $250K raise over last year. Unfortunately, he's worth less than half that amount.
Rusch had a fantastic year, his best since his first year with the Mets in 2000. Rusch is a free agent, but the Cubs have to be thinking about re-signing him to be either the fifth starter or a swingman. Much will depend on what Rusch wants.
Blondie was like Leicester in caricature this year. He struck out people at an obscenely good rate (11.10 K/9), but walked almost a batter an inning, completely nullifying the good things he did. He only allowed one home run, though, another point in his favor. Do relief pitchers suddenly find great control? Sure, it happens, but Todd has no choice in this matter: he has to stop walking so many people, or he's not just inexpensive, he's useless.
Wood returns for year two of his Big Contract, and the Cubs hope he'll provide a bit more bang for the buck this year. Wood gets a small raise ($500K) to $8.5M in 2005. The injuries Wood dealt with this year virtually guarantee that the mutual option the Cubs and Wood share for 2007 will not become a player option: Wood would have to pitch 260 innings next year for that to happen. [EDIT]: I'm a dummy. Wood's option become a player option if he pitches 400 innings in '05 and '06, not '04 and '05, so it is certainly in the realm of possibility.
Wuertz will vie for a spot in the 'pen next year. Wellemeyer gets more buzz, but Wuertz is younger and pitched much better to boot.
I'll take this Cy Young candidate for $440K, thank you very much. Z is eligible for arbitration this year. While Hendry is likely to avoid an actual hearing with Zambrano, it'll be interesting to see if he tries to pull an Oakland with Carlos and signs him to a relatively inexpensive multiyear deal.