RedEye

Cubs find a new way not to have pitching

Masahiro Tanaka chose the Yankees over the Cubs.

Yoenis Cespedes chose the A’s -- the A’s, do you hear me? -- and not the Cubs a couple years ago.

What is Theo Epstein doing wrong?

Or maybe it’s Tom Ricketts’ fault, although there seemed to be a massive financial commitment.

Just not massive enough, or if it was, then it seems that good and maybe great players as well as fans are staying away from the stench that is the Cubs’ on-field product.

And so, Tanaka chose the Yankees and their seven-year, $155 million offer. He also has an opt-out clause after four years. At that point, he would be 29 going on 30. He would be in his prime, according to Epstein’s window. That would make him a ripe target for the Cubs, should Tanaka choose to opt out.

But here’s the thing: Will the Cubs be a contender in four years?

Will Epstein still be here?

I’m not mocking Epstein and his scorched Cub policy. Even though he has never wrecked a place and rebuilt it into a champion, Epstein’s approach makes sense.

But cold-eyed analysis of what Epstein has not accomplished so far makes you wonder if the Cubs ever will contend. Epstein hasn’t found-slash-developed-slash-gotten-lucky with the most important part of the game: quality pitching.

Epstein’s Cubs continue to have zero top-of-the-rotation pitching. That goes for the majors and the minors. Don’t give me Jeff Samardzija. He’s another version of Edwin Jackson, and Jackson is a fourth starter even on a last-place team like the Cubs.

Look, if you had a choice of Samardzija or Ryan Dempster, you’d go with Dempster, right? The Red Sox made Dempster a mop-up man when the season mattered.

And by the way, Travis Wood is better than Samardzija.

The Cubs have plenty of young hitting in the system. They have plenty of great position prospects, starting with Kris Bryant and extending to Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler. Not all of them will be stars. In fact, not all of them will make the majors. Epstein knows it and plans for such failure. Quantity yields quality eventually.

But the Cubs have nothing close to those choices on the mound. As quickly as the Cubs have become the objects of affection for scouting outfits, they get no love when projecting pitching prospects.

So, Tanaka was massively important to Epstein’s plan. He’s 25, has great stuff, and is a top-of-the-rotation pitcher that makes slotting other arms easier.

But no. Not now. Now the Cubs will continue to force pitchers up a spot or two in the rotation, which can make the bottom of the rotation a forfeit, which makes more misery a gimme.

Sorry, but this is not a good look for the Cubs, even for a Cubs organization sticking to a smart plan. Pitching wins. The Cubs don’t have it. The Cubs don’t project to have it by 2015, when things were supposed to start getting better. A franchise that can sell only hope still can’t help looking hopeless.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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