I am old enough, yet still possessed of the necessary memory, to recall Chicago Cubs offseasons of yore and all the wasted pitching opportunities. Let us, for example, hearken back to the 1991 free agent acquisition of Toronto pitcher Danny Jackson. Management signed the hurler to a four-year, $10.55 million dollar contract – a huge slice of cheddar in early 90s dollars. The team believed that Jackson would make a strong addition to a starting rotation that included future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux and Rick Sutcliffe.
How did that work out? Let’s ask Jared Dwyer of Bleacher Report:
“Unfortunately for the Cubs and Jackson, the plan did not go…well…as planned.
In his first season with Chicago, Danny went 1-5 with a 6.75 ERA, racking up more bases on balls than strikeouts.
The following season, 1992, he was unceremoniously traded to Pittsburgh for Steve Buechele.”
Speaking of Greg Maddux, the franchise pitcher and four-time Cy Young winner was sent packing – in return for absolutely nothing but shame, ignominy and regret – to sign a long-term deal with the Atlanta Braves in 1992. Staff writer Jon Greenburg of ESPN accurately distills the epic offseason disaster:
“For all the bad poetry written about that dusty trade of Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio, Maddux for Nada beats that deal like a 3-2 changeup on the lower corner.
Even the best pitcher of a generation, maybe any generation, couldn’t beat bad management, the true curse of the Chicago Cubs.”
The final example in my quick roundup of the Cubbies’ offseason pitching debacles is the 1987 trade that sent Hall of Fame candidate Lee Smith to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Calvin Schiraldi and Al Nipper. Suffice it to say, the deal haunts Cub fans such as writer Al Yellen to this day:
“Schiraldi was psychologically damaged from having helped Boston blow Game 6 of the 1986 World Series and was described to me by one person who saw him in the Cubs’ clubhouse as ‘flabby.’ Nipper was a nonentity who was released after one poor season with the Cubs.”
But even if we didn’t have a 2016 World Series World Series trophy safely tucked away to remind us that times have changed, the words and post-season actions of Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein would do the trick. The 2018 Cubs Convention kicked off this week, and attendees of the annual event were abuzz with the team’s latest moves to shore up a struggling 2017 pitching staff.
Late Friday morning, it was announced that the Cubs avoided arbitration with clutch right hander Kyle “The Professor” Hendricks, signing him to a one-year, $4.175 million deal. Hendricks certainly had his problems in Game 3 of the 2017 NLCS (ice cold bats were no help), but the cool, calm and methodical ace was critical to the 2016 championship and deserves another year to contribute.
Not an hour before the Hendricks announcement, the Cubs closed a similar, one-year deal with bullpen lefty Justin Wilson. The pitcher hardly set Wrigleyville on fire after his mid-2017 season trade from the Detroit Tigers, but he finished the year with a 3.41 ERA. There’s reason to hope he can make a more solid difference in 2018.
Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer did not wait for 2018 or the Convention to get necessary pitching reform going, however. Before the holidays, the Cubs signed Colorado Rockies free-agent Tyler Chatwood to a three-year, $38 million agreement. Epstein characterized the move as an alert, economic no-brainer:
“There are times to strike quickly, and there are times to wait and get value…Starting pitching is an area where there is more demand than supply… We felt if we could get the right starter on a reasonable deal before the winter meetings, it was something we would like to do.”
Adding to the building confidence of Wrigleyville Nation, Theo told breathless fans at this week’s Cubs Convention that the work to overhaul an underperforming 2017 staff is unfinished:
“We’re not done…We have confidence in this group if this is the 25 we end up taking to spring training. But realistically, we’d certainly like to add another pitcher. I like the talent that we have right now, but I think we could certainly add to the depth.”
With free agent hurlers Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb still swirling in the Cubs orbit, it’s clear that Epstein’s assurance is more than bluster. The trapped and panicked offseason mistakes of years past have been completely displaced by methodical, considered logic.