The Cubs and the hunt for pitching

The Cubs' interest in Cole Hamels might have been as much about gauging the pitching market. Hunter Martin/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- By now you know that the Chicago Cubs are in search of pitching to augment their position-player prospect base. The Cubs could fill out a starting eight of prospects -- and then some -- but finding a five-man rotation to help them compete in the coming years is still a work in progress.

Any fan knows this by now, and when the Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel earlier this season, that task became larger. Jake Arrieta is coming along, as is Kyle Hendricks, but neither is worthy just yet of a World Series Game 7. We don’t even know if the Cubs have Series starters 1 through 5 on the team, or in the system, right now. They need plenty more and have acknowledged as much. The plan is to keep acquiring as much pitching talent as they can while looking for that big fish.

“We’ve been open about the fact we’d like to add an impact pitcher,” team president Theo Epstein said recently. “If you look over the next 18 months or so, it’s certainly a priority for us.

“Whether we develop one from an unlikely spot like Jake Arrieta or acquire someone who’s already at those heights remains to be seen.”

In the meantime, the Cubs are taking advantage of their position in baseball. As one of the majors' worst teams, they get early claim on players going through waivers -- where priority goes in reverse position of the standings. So in recent weeks, the Cubs have grabbed Felix Doubront from the Boston Red Sox and Jacob Turner from the Miami Marlins.

“Just 23 years old with a really good arm,” Epstein said of right-hander Turner. “We feel like we got him at a low point of value. There’s plenty of upside left with him. ... He was one of the better starting-pitching prospects in all of baseball as recently as a couple years ago. We feel like that talent is still in there.”

Left-hander Doubront, 26, and Turner have a couple of things in common, starting with their youth and the fact that they’ve struggled recently. It’s given the Cubs a chance to get them for next to nothing and integrate them into the pitching infrastructure team brass likes so much.

“We’ve had some success with talented pitchers who’ve gone through tough periods,” Epstein said. “Getting them here, let them reset a little bit. Give them some things to think about.”

The Cubs are buying low right now because they can. Why not take fliers on guys who need a change of scenery and see if pitching coach Chris Bosio can work some magic? In the coming years, the Cubs hope the team is good enough that they aren’t drafting high or the first to put in waiver claims.

“We’ve always been aggressive for talent wherever we can be,” Epstein said.

That brings us to the Cubs' reported claim on Philadelphia Phillies lefty Cole Hamels last week. The 30-year-old is a major step up in class from the Doubronts and Turners of the world -- and so is his contract. With Hamels owed at least $90 million over the next four seasons, it seemed a peculiar time for the Cubs to grab their No. 1 starter. More than likely, the claim was a fact-finding mission, as a deal between the Cubs and Phillies never materialized and Hamels was pulled back off waivers.

It can’t hurt the Cubs to gauge now what it will take to land a big name come the offseason. They’d rather do it without giving up young talent, but they need to be prepared for all scenarios. Names never leaked, but the Cubs should have an idea of what other teams think of some of their prospects and how many of them it might take to bring in a No. 1 pitcher. At the very least, they know what the Phillies want for Hamels.

So as the Cubs catch the minnows with their high position in the claiming process, they’ve always got their eye on the big fish. The Cubs are being deliberate while uncovering every rock to find pitching. The only question is, where and when do they acquire the Game 7 starter?