The Cubs are coming off of a season which saw them drop 101 games, and ultimately being tabbed as a mess. With their pitching inferior, general manager Theo Epstein appears to be set on working from that tier up.
Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago, reported last week that Josh Johnson could be the Cubs’ list of pitchers who could reshape their dreadful rotation.The Marlins drew some interest for their right-hander during the trade deadline, but a deal was never reached.
But for the Cubs, Johnson is well worth a few decent prospects. He is still relatively young, and if injuries don’t disrupt him, he is one of baseball’s best arms.
Here are three reasons why the Cubs should deal for Johnson:
A Future Fit
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The Cubs are at least a few years away from contending, and Josh Johnson, 28, is still in the prime of his career. Considering those two factors, Johnson and the Cubs seem to be a perfect fit because Johnson isn’t nearing the end of his prime. If anything, he could be in the midst of entering those dominant years for all we know. That would come as a surprise, though, given that Johnson has already manufactured some solid years, particularly in 2010 when he finished fifth in Cy Young voting thanks to a dazzling 2.30 ERA.
To put a number on it, the Cubs are probably at least three years away from competing. With that said, Johnson should still be effective when those three years expire. The strong right-hander would be closing in on 32, which isn’t young, but also isn’t terribly old either.
Plenty of pitchers in their mid 30’s have been extremely effective. Take Roy Halladay for example. At 32 years-old he finished fifth in Cy Young voting, at 33 he won the Cy Young award, and at 34 he finished second in balloting.
Unlike Halladay, Johnson hasn’t had much of a workload over the past two years since he has been recovering from various arm issues. In 2010, he spawned 28 starts, and added nine starts to that total in 2011. Generally, starting pitchers compile near 35 starts per year. But Johnson’s 2010 and 2011 campaign’s combined would barely surpass that projection.
Basically, if Johnson avoids any further arm injuries that call for a major setback, he could be pitching well into his 30’s. Not only has he not had a ton of wear and tear on his body, but he is a bulky pitcher at 6’7 and 250 pounds. A collapse certainly doesn’t seem in the cards for him.
He Would Be A Building Block
Aside from Matt Garza, who is in line to hit the free agent market after this upcoming season, Chicago does not have much depth from a starting pitching perspective. They dealt Ryan Dempster to the Rangers at the trade deadline, and they also dangled Paul Maholm to the Braves. Both were key contributors in 2012, but neither were presumably a part of Theo Epstein’s future plans.
Realistically, the Cubs only possess two reliable starters in Garza and Jeff Samardzija, and that’s assuming they don’t trade Garza this winter which seems somewhat likely. Acquiring Johnson, though, would change the outlook of Chicago’s rotation.
The Cubs really don’t have an “ace,” per se. Garza possess ace like stuff when’s he’s clicking, but his inconsistency affects him from reaching the elite level. Despite multiple Tommy John surgeries, Johnson was and still is capable of being an ace.
In eight years with the Marlins he has been their ace in almost all those eight seasons, posting a 3.06 ERA since 2008. That mark checks in as the sixth best earned run average in the N.L during that span, ranking in a group consisting of Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, and Cliff Lee.
Adding Johnson would enable Garza to shift to the number two spot, Samardzija to the three, and Epstein could fill out the rest of his rotation either with budding prospects or through free agency. Johnson’s presence would balance out a rotation in need of some stability.
More importantly, Johnson would give Chicago’s rotation a formidable appearance for a change.
Starting Pitching Is A Necessity To Building Winners
Offense and defense are great and all, but a solid starting rotation and bullpen is vital to building a winning team. In 2010, the Giants won the World Series thanks to dominant starting pitching, and in 2011 the Cardinals rode their durable bullpen straight to a title.
While the Cubs are certainly a long way away from building pitching staffs comparable to San Francisco’s or St.Louis’s, adding Johnson to the mix would be a step in right direction because he has proven that he is a legitimate number one.
The Marlins’ asking price for their ace during the trade deadline was steep. But now that he is in a contract year, Miami’s demanding should decrease slightly enough for the Cubs to bite on a reasonable offer. Plus, with Miami looking to dump some of their high-priced pitchers, they are reportedly willing to eat up some of the money of the desired pitcher.
Great pitching always beats great hitting. If the Cubs begin to build from their rotation up, a turnaround may be on the horizon much sooner than expected.