State of the Cubs: Building a rotation for October

State of the Cubs: Building a rotation for October
October 30, 2013, 6:15 pm
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Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki

Do the Cubs have any pitchers you would trust in the deciding game of a World Series? Or even a meaningful game in September with the second wild card in play?

At this point, Cubs fans know the St. Louis Cardinals are loaded, no matter what happens in Wednesday night’s Game 6 at Fenway Park. The Boston Red Sox haven’t clinched a World Series at home since 1918, but they will have to face Michael Wacha, a billboard for The Cardinal Way.

At the age of 22, Wacha is 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA so far in October. He has become a signature move for the Cardinals, who drafted him 19th overall in 2012 with the compensation pick they got by letting Albert Pujols walk and sign that megadeal with the Los Angeles Angels.

Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija has shown flashes of being that kind of big-game performer for the Cubs, all the way back to when he was a trash-talking Notre Dame wide receiver with no fear of going over the middle. But his name will be all over this winter.

[MORE: As search continues, Eric Wedge makes his pitch to Cubs]

The Cubs will be linked to Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka (don’t hold your breath) and have built a rotation good enough to win a Florida State League title (stay tuned).

Throughout October, has taken state-of-the-organization snapshots, rewinding the 2013 season and looking ahead to the future, trying to figure out what’s next for the Cubs.

Swimming with Sharks: Heading into Year 3 of Theo Epstein’s reboot, this is Matt Garza 2.0. Samardzija — who’s positioned to become a free agent after the 2015 season — has already made his millions and is looking for a market-rate deal.

Only three other National League pitchers reached Samardzija’s levels in innings (213 2/3) and strikeouts (214): Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright and Cy Young winners Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Cliff Lee (Philadelphia Phillies).

Samardzija will be 29 next season and is now the only player left from the 2008 team that won 97 games. But it still feels like he’s only scratching the surface, making it hard to put a number on his potential.

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Samardzija finished this season at 8-13 with a 4.34 ERA and no doubt learned from the experience. But he also posted a 5.47 ERA from July on (61 earned runs in 100 1/3 innings), another core player struggling to make adjustments in a step-back year that got manager Dale Sveum fired.

Bidding war: Of course, the Cubs are going to be in on Tanaka, who’s about to celebrate his 25th birthday and went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA during his regular season with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. But with the Dodgers and New York Yankees expected to go all-out to win the Tanaka sweepstakes, this looks like another second- or third-place finish for the Cubs (see Yu Darvish and Hyun-Jin Ryu). Whatever shape the posting system takes, the total price tag will likely exceed $100 million, and this has become a mid-market franchise.

Money quote: Edwin Jackson put it this way: “It was a s----- year.” The biggest free agent signed so far by the Epstein administration led the majors with 18 losses and posted a 4.98 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP. The Cubs frontloaded that four-year, $52 million deal, meaning Jackson could be flipped if he turns it around.

X-factors: Travis Wood (9-12, 3.11 ERA) pitched exactly 200 innings, making 24 quality starts and representing the Cubs at the All-Star Game. The building-block lefty — who will be 27 next season — could be next in line for a long-term contract.

The Cubs bought low on Jake Arrieta in the Scott Feldman trade with the Baltimore Orioles, believing the 27-year-old right-hander needed a change of scenery. Arrieta went 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA in nine starts with the Cubs, making his case for a spot in the 2014 rotation.

[MORE: Matheny hire shows why Cubs have Ausmus on radar]

Kyle Hendricks, acquired in the 2012 Ryan Dempster trade with the Texas Rangers, turned heads as the organization's pitcher of the year, going 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA in 27 starts for Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.

Arodys Vizcaino — the centerpiece of the 2012 Paul Maholm deal with the Atlanta Braves — has missed two full seasons now recovering from Tommy John surgery. The 22-year-old right-hander will likely be eased back in as a reliever before getting a shot at the rotation.

The future: The hope-and-change message came out of advanced Class-A Daytona, where a team loaded with prospects won 16 of its last 18 games and went 43 straight playoff innings without allowing an earned run. The Cubs are pinning their hopes on the draft and trade-deadline deals, restocking a farm system Baseball America recently ranked No. 5 in the game.

C.J. Edwards, a 48th-round pick in the 2011 draft, was the real headliner in the Garza deal with Texas. Edwards, 22, notched 155 strikeouts in 116.1 innings this season and has allowed only one home run in 183 1/3 career innings. Daytona’s rotation also featured Corey Black, the guy traded for Alfonso Soriano, and Ivan Pineyro, who came over from the Washington Nationals in the Scott Hairston deal.

Pierce Johnson, the 43rd overall pick in the 2012 draft out of Missouri State, went 6-1 with a 2.22 ERA down the stretch for Daytona. It’s not exactly Wacha/Pujols, but Johnson was the compensation for letting Aramis Ramirez walk as a free agent.

“I feel like this is a perfect fit,” Johnson said. “The Cubs are turning it around. We're going to do something in the near future. We're going to win a World Series, and I feel like I'm going to be a good part of that. It makes me so excited.”