The Case for Kyle Hendricks to Start in Iowa
I write slowly.
I am not sure why it takes me so long to write things out but it produces a number of drawbacks, one of which is being beaten to the punch. I had planned to write about the emerging picture of the Cubs 2015 staff but I was beaten by Brett Taylor at Bleacher Nation (with a look at the fifth starter spot) and John Arguello at Cubs Den (considering the possibility of a 13 man pitching staff).
So instead of adding yet another in-depth look at the entire pitching staff, I want to analyze the reasons why I think Kyle Hendricks should not head north with the big league club at the end of spring training.
This is a surprising change in beliefs for me. I had been penciling Kyle Hendricks into a starting spot since the end of the 2014 season, but as the Cubs roster emerged for 2015 there is a legitimate reason to re-evaluate this position.
While I have been a doubter of Hendricks’ abilities translating to big league success in the past, it has nothing to do with whether or not he is likely to produce the fourth-best results of any Cubs starter. I actually think he would, but the question of who should be in the rotation on April 5, 2015 is more complicated than just who are the five best starters in the Cubs organization right now.
The Cubs starting rotation has the potential to be a strength of the team, but there are huge question marks outside of Jon Lester. Jake Arrieta threw a career high 156.2 innings last year, and at a level of production never before seen in his professional career. Jason Hammel nearly matched his career high with 176.1 innings, which also marked the first time in three years he had managed to throw over 140 innings.
Beyond the foursome of Lester, Arrieta, Hammel, and Hendricks, name a pitcher you have confidence in providing 160 quality big league innings in 2015. I am not certain how anyone could list any name in the organization with absolute faith that they believe would be capable of that feat.
Every team needs more than 5 starters to make it through the regular season, but, given the current staff, the Cubs might need those additional starters more than most. Injury and poor performance is likely to cause the Cubs to have to dig to their seventh or eighth starters at some point this season. This complicates the decision because of the unique roster considerations of the pitchers battling for those remaining two rotation spots.
Edwin Jackson is a guy that many fans would love to pay to go away, and that might be the best option at the end of the day. However, pitching is a funny thing where small changes can result in huge changes both positive and negative for players. Cub fans saw those positive extreme changes with Jake Arrieta last year, and have seen the negative with Edwin Jackson morphing from a league-average innings-eater into the worst starting pitcher in baseball.
The Cubs’ best option might be to cut Jackson, but the slider is still an elite — or at least near elite — swing-and-miss pitch. I have been intrigued with the idea of turning him into a reliever to see if there is any value to be recouped, but if he regains anything close to the form that netted him the contract he is at least the fifth-best starter on the roster.
Jacob Turner has the highest ceiling of the bunch of legitimate candidates and he is also out of options. His salary might limit the number of teams willing to take a chance on him, but there are plenty of deep-pocket clubs that could use arms as well. The Cubs could stash him in the back of the bullpen if they don’t want to risk it, but the upside should earn him a spot if he shows anything in spring training. If I had to guess I would imagine he has an inside track on a starting job, but I doubt the front office or Joe Maddon have made any firm decisions yet.
Felix Doubront is a guy the front office likes more than probably anyone else, or so it seems. I haven’t seen anyone really suggesting great things for the lefty, but the Cubs made a trade to bring him here. Part of the reason the Boston Red Sox gave up on Doubront was the fact that he pouted when he was sent to the bullpen. And I think it is telling that the front office didn’t try to do anything but start him after bringing him to Chicago. So the odds of the Cubs being able to stash Doubront in the ‘pen seem remote and he too is out of options.
Tsuyoshi Wada has a four million dollar guaranteed contract, and, despite having two options, can only be sent down to the minors with his permission. I’ll admit that I have been a big supporter of Wada as a back-end of the rotation option, and I was glad that the Cubs brought him back. It seems likely, however, that he will be pushed to the bullpen.
The cost of eating his deal isn’t prohibitive, but given his production last year and the nature of his deal, it would probably take a lot to remove Wada from the Cubs 25-man roster. If his spot is as safe as I think/hope, that would mean that there are just three spots left, and there are still more guys that cannot be sent down.
Drake Britton and Travis Wood appear to be easy enough guys to move, but neither can be sent down freely. Britton is out of options and might be best placed on the 40-man roster to fill the left-handed reliever role. Then again, if Wada is pushed into the bullpen, the need for a lefty is reduced. Britton’s spot as the last one added is obviously precarious. The Cubs also are very likely to trade Travis Wood given the obvious glut of starters. However, cutting Edwin Jackson and trading Travis Wood would still leave Kyle Hendricks on the outside of the Cubs 25-man roster.
So why should we care about maximizing the talent within the organization? Isn’t the Cubs’ only goal to win games now from this point on? Yes, but sending Kyle Hendricks to Iowa would be about winning beyond just April. The Cubs are going to dip into their depth of arms at some point; if Kyle Hendricks is in the rotation right now, it likely means the sixth starter is Dallas Beeler or Eric Jokisch.
So the question becomes one of whether the gap between Felix Doubront/Jacob Turner/Tsuyoshi Wada to Dallas Beeler or Eric Jokisch is greater than the difference between Kyle Hendricks and that first group. The answer for 2015 is a yes, and that is why Kyle Hendricks shouldn’t be part of the opening day rotation. The Cubs’ goal is to play meaningful games in August, September and — dare I say — October in 2015.
That is going to take more than just putting the best five starters in the rotation on April 5th to accomplish.