After a year in which no Chicago Cubs pitcher won more than nine games, it’s hardly a surprise that the team is looking to add starting pitching help this offseason. That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re planning to dive into the multimillion-dollar Zack Greinke sweepstakes.
As reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cubs are looking to continue last year’s approach of targeting bargain-priced free agents this offseason. The paper suggests that with the potential trade for Dan Haren having fallen through, the team’s top candidates include two more righthanders: Oakland’s Brandon McCarthy and Milwaukee’s Shaun Marcum.
All three pitchers have reasons to appeal to Cub management, though ex-Cub Haren—now a free agent after the Angels declined his option—is likely to be out of Chicago’s desired price range. Of the two more affordable starters, McCarthy appears to be the more encouraging prospect.
McCarthy’s season ended in unfortunate (if dramatic) fashion when he took a line drive to the head. However, the resulting surgery appears to have been successful, and a hard-luck injury like this one doesn’t bring the same risk of recurring as, say, Haren’s chronic back problems.
In addition, McCarthy’s performance on the mound has been radically improved by a 2010 stint in the minors that saw him change the arm angle on his delivery. Since returning to the big leagues with Oakland in 2011, he’s posted the two lowest ERAs of his career, thrown five complete games and raised his strikeout-to-walk ratio as high as 4.92.
Marcum doesn’t have such a dramatic improvement to his credit, though he’s pitched quite well since 2009 Tommy John surgery. Still, his numbers across the board, from ERA (3.70 to McCarthy’s 3.24) to home runs allowed per nine innings (1.2 to McCarthy’s 0.8), are a shade behind McCarthy’s recent performance.
Marcum’s biggest advantage is familiarity, as Cubs manager Dale Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio both know him well from their time in Milwaukee. Whether that’s enough to make Marcum worth picking ahead of the fast-rising McCarthy, though, is another question altogether.
The Cubs have enough cash on hand—roughly $50 million in expiring contracts—that adding both McCarthy and Marcum wouldn’t be an unrealistic prospect. If they can only get one, though, McCarthy is the pitcher to sign.