For the past couple of years, many of us have pointed out the lack of controllable starting pitchers in the Cubs organization. With the minor league system still lacking impact arms at the upper levels, the Cubs might have to look outside the organization to acquire controlled arms. Given the extremely steep price of proven arms, (Thanks, Dave Stewart) the best course of action might be to take a chance on a more unproven arm or former top prospect. While Theo Epstein and the rest of the front office have already acquired one of those in Mike Montgomery, this is something I would add to the Cubs shopping list this off-season. With Jake Arrieta and John Lackey set to be free agents after 2017 and with a noticeable lack of starting pitching depth this coming season, getting some controllable starting pitchers with upside into the organization is a must. The following names of pitchers the Cubs should check in on have varying degrees of experience and success at the big league level, but all of these guys should require less in trade than the high end arms that could be traded this off-season like Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Chris Archer.
Robbie Ray, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ray, a hard throwing lefty, had one of the most interesting seasons in baseball last year. In his first full year, Ray posted some high end strikeout numbers (218 in 174.1 innings), but also really struggled with the long ball (1.24 HR/9). Despite his strikeout numbers Ray posted a 4.90 ERA, largely due to suffering from an extremely high BABIP against of .352 and a gaudy HR/FB rate of 15.5%. The future looks pretty great in terms of run prevention though, as Ray put up some great peripherals with a 80 cFIP and a 80.8 DRA-. Getting him out of the thin air in Phoenix and in front of an elite defense might really help him in that department. While the previous front office might have been more likely to deal the promising lefty, the Cubs should still absolutely check in on Ray to see if the Diamondbacks buy more into the results than the peripherals.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Archie Bradley is the first of the underperforming former top prospects on this list. The 24 year old former 7th overall pick has really struggled so far in his time in the big leagues. Over two partial seasons and 177.1 innings, Bradley has posted a 5.18 ERA. However, this past season, he struck out just about a batter per inning, though he struggled a bit with the walks at 4.3 batters per nine innings. Like Ray, Bradley surrendered a high BABIP of .338 which should come down a bit in the future. Bradley absolutely has the stuff to be a frontline starter in this league, with a fastball reaching the mid to upper 90s and a good knuckle curveball. If the Diamondbacks are ready to move on Bradley at all, the Cubs should be waiting to pounce.
Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Walker, like Archie Bradley, is a former top prospect who hasn’t quite put everything together at the big league level. While he’s experienced moderate success (4.18 career ERA with a 98.4 career DRA-), he is yet to show the consistent dominance that many have expected from him. In addition to the inability to put everything together, he has dealt with minor ailments including a shoulder injury in 2014 and a foot injury in 2016. While the Mariners might not be prone to dealing Walker, there is a pretty solid match with the Cubs as they could use some help in the outfield. I expect the Cubs to absolutely check in on the talented right-hander at some point this off-season.
James Paxton, LHP, Seattle Mariners
Along with Walker, the Mariners also have a flame throwing young left-hander in James Paxton. He saw a huge uptick in velocity this year, and while he wasn’t able to put together a full season due to a couple minor non-throwing related injuries, he had some great peripheral numbers. His 79 cFIP and 83.4 DRA- are really encouraging moving forward. While the walk numbers were pedestrian earlier in his career, he more than cut his walk rate in half this past year to only 1.8 BB/9. Like Walker, the Mariners are probably more likely to hang onto Paxton, but if the Cubs are willing to deal a bat, they might be able to pry of these two promising young arms loose.
Eddie Butler, RHP, Colorado Rockies
Butler might the most attainable name on this list. A former top 50 prospect, the young righty has really struggled early on in his big league career. There really isn’t even much positive to highlight for Butler. The strikeouts have been low (5.3 per nine), the hits have been high (12.0 per nine) and the home runs allowed has been really high (1.6 per nine). Now part of that might be the Coors effect, but it’s tough to blame everything on a ballpark. Butler was moved to the pen last year and really wasn’t better there. Unlike the rest of this list, Butler is quite a bit of higher risk, but he’d also come with a lower acquisition cost. In a guy like Butler, you’re hoping that Chris Bosio can work his magic with the former top prospect.
Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Ventura is uber-talented, though he has shown a propensity for picking fights early on in his career. The fire comes not only in his personality but also in his fastball. Even with his excellent stuff, the results have been solid, but haven’t quite matched who everyone thought he would be (98 cFIP and 95.9 DRA-). The Royals have to decide at some point if the results are worth the headache. While some fans might be hesitant to bring a guy like that into the clubhouse, if any team can handle a personality like Ventura’s, it’s the Cubs, and there is no denying the quality of his stuff on the mound. An added bonus with Ventura is his team friendly contract because he is under control through 2019 with reasonable team options for 2020 and 2021.
Daniel Norris, LHP, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are in an interesting middle ground right now where they’re not sure if they should buy or sell. If they decide they want to compete in 2017, one way to get some help will be to deal a guy like Norris. With 4 others starters making big money (Jordan Zimmermann, Justin Verlander, Mike Pelfrey and Anibal Sanchez), trading the youngster Norris might be the right way to address holes on the roster. Norris was an extremely well regarded prospect, but he has yet to put together much time in the big leagues. This past season he was pretty good in his 13 starts, posting a 3.38 ERA while striking out 9.2 batters per nine while only walking 2.9 per nine. It seems like Norris might be ready to take the next step and join a major league rotation, but he just might not have that opportunity in Detroit this year.
There are surely other names not listed here that the Cubs could target, but these are just a few of the names I believe the Cubs should be going after this off-season. They range in terms of acquisition cost and likelihood to be dealt, but the Cubs have both the minor league talent and the major league ready depth to appeal to a lot of teams. Look for the Cubs to be linked to many, if not all, of these players at some point in the next couple of months. The hot stove is soon to be burning and I, for one, cannot wait.
Lead photo courtesy of Denny Medley—USA Today Sports