Hot Off the Presses: Vine Line’s Opening Day Issue
You can never have too much pitching.
If you need further proof of that old baseball axiom, let’s look at the 2012 Cubs. They started the season with a fairly solid rotation behind a pitching-out-of-his-gourd Ryan Dempster, reliever-turned-starter Jeff Samardzija, a rejuvenated Paul Maholm and young veteran ﬁreballer Matt Garza. At the back end, there were two options: newly acquired lefty Travis Wood and underachieving former top draft pick Chris Volstad.
Things looked pretty good on paper. But, as we all know, that didn’t last long.
The offense didn’t score. Injuries took their toll. The trade deadline came and went. And, well, the rest is lamentable Cubs history.
It turned out the team didn’t have much major league-ready talent behind those guys—in the starting rotation or in the bullpen—and baseball president Theo Epstein’s preseason prediction, “The numbers show you’re going to need your ninth starter through the course of the year,” came true.
As a result, the front ofﬁce was laser focused on one thing throughout the hot stove season: acquiring more serviceable big league pitching to ensure there isn’t a repeat performance of last season.
“I think that probably the biggest weakness when we got here was depth in pitching, especially at the upper levels,” General Manager Jed Hoyer said. “Ideally, you want to home-grow all of your pitching. We don’t have that luxury right now, so we actively sought out a lot of starting pitching. We brought in four guys we see as starters: [Edwin] Jackson, [Scott] Feldman, [Scott] Baker and [Carlos] Villanueva.”
The Cubs might not have a traditional “ace” coming into the season, but they have three guys with the ability to ﬁll that role in Samardzija, Garza and Jackson. If strike-throwing machine Baker can fully recover from last April’s Tommy John surgery, he should be a useful veteran addition to the staff. Feldman and Villanueva have both proven they can start and relieve in the big leagues, giving manager Dale Sveum plenty of flexibility. And Travis Wood, the only lefty in the starting mix, has tremendous athleticism and mixes in six different pitches.
The team also solidiﬁed the bullpen by re-signing veteran Shawn Camp and bringing in Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa. Even Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon, who is required to stay on the 25-man major league roster all season or be offered back to the Indians, looked impressive in his spring appearances.
The April issue of Vine Line takes a look at the Cubs pitching staff from top to bottom to give you an idea of what each pitcher throws, how they attack hitters and what to expect this season.
We also sat down with Hoyer to get a sense of where the organization stands as he enters his second season in the driver’s seat. The team certainly still has work to do, but there are many reasons to feel optimistic about the future.
“We’re trying to build something that every year [fans] know is a playoff-quality team,” Hoyer said. “It doesn’t happen overnight, and we’ve been really honest about that. But I do think fans deserve to start seeing the fruits of our labor, and I think you’re going to start to see that coming together now.”
Still, winning organizations are not built solely by shrewd front ofﬁce maneuvers. They require buy-in from coaches, players and personnel at every level. While we were in Mesa, Ariz., with the team this spring, we got a ﬁrsthand look at how the Cubs’ message is being passed along from veteran players, like David DeJesus and Alfonso Soriano, to the younger generation, like Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson. It’s a time-honored baseball tradition—each spring, older players take the young studs under their wings to teach them the ins and outs of the major league game.
Baseball is back. Let’s see where this ride takes us.