The Cubs missed on their top target in free agency (Masahiro Tanaka) and they’ve considered trading their best pitcher (Jeff Samardzija). Still, Chris Bosio thinks they have enough arms to surprise some people.
The pitching coach has been instrumental in executing the plan for Theo Epstein’s front office. The Cubs have had success signing low-risk veterans like Scott Feldman and Paul Maholm and flipping them for prospects. It was no surprise when Bosio survived Dale Sveum’s firing and stayed on as a strong voice for new manager Rick Renteria’s staff.
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Bosio helped turn Travis Wood into an All-Star. The Cubs are banking on Samardzija taking a similar step forward and a bounce-back season from Edwin Jackson. With those three in place, the Cubs also hope Jake Arrieta can grab the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation.
Arrieta, a former top prospect, turns 28 in March and showed promise late last season, going 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA in nine starts with the Cubs. The Cubs sold high on Feldman and acquired Arrieta from the Baltimore Orioles along with hard-throwing reliever Pedro Strop.
"We made strides the last couple of years with the maturity of Samardzija, Travis Wood," Bosio said. "Moving forward, we have another year of experience getting to know these guys and what their capabilities are.
"We have to put them in position to succeed, which, as our fans know from the last couple years, is trial and error.
"The one thing we have is more depth. We have some big arms. We've got some athletes and we've got some young, talented pitchers coming."
The bullpen became a daily issue for Sveum as the Cubs blew 47 saves during his two seasons on the North Side. The front office gave Renteria some more options by signing closer Jose Veras and left-hander Wesley Wright. Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon (3.20 ERA in the second half last season) and right-hander Blake Parker (2.72 ERA in 49 games) are also in the mix.
"The one thing I want to be able to do is to go to Rick and [bench coach Brandon Hyde] during the game with a chance to win every day once we get into that sixth inning," Bosio said. "The one thing we have this year that we haven't had in the past is flexibility."
Over the last two years, James Russell has been the team’s only consistent left-handed option, appearing in 151 games and accounting for 122 innings. He wore down last summer, posting a 5.29 ERA in 17 innings after the All-Star break.
"Another left-handed pitcher in Wesley Wright helps," Bosio said. "Russell has had a lot of pressure put on him. He won't say it, but the last couple years, he's had  appearances and that's a lot of pressure to put on a young man.
"More flexibility should translate into more opportunities to win ballgames."
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If the Cubs are hit with injuries or have another summer sell-off, they have reinforcements waiting in the wings.
Carlos Villanueva is the ideal veteran swingman. Kyle Hendricks, the organization's minor league pitcher of the year in 2013, will start the season at Triple-A Iowa. Arodys Vizcaino and Kyuji Fujikawa are on the comeback trail recovering from elbow injuries. Chris Rusin, Alberto Cabrera and Justin Grimm should create even more depth.
After losing the Tanaka sweepstakes, the Cubs still have a spot to fill in the rotation before pitchers and catchers officially report to spring training on Feb. 13. Whoever they sign to a short-term deal, the Cubs will think he’ll be better for working with Bosio in Mesa, Ariz.