RedEye

Position analysis: Pitching will be a priority

A pitching staff that included Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Carlos Marmol went belly up in 2012, despite prolonged stretches of dominance from those four starters and the closer.

The Cubs finished 24th among all major league teams with a 4.51 earned-run average, with the starters ranking 23rd (4.52 ERA) and the relievers finishing at 27th (4.49). The Cubs also issued the second most walks (573) in baseball, while recording the fourth fewest strikeouts (1,128).

It was an unmitigated disaster, featuring a slew of pitchers who obviously should not have been pitching in the major leagues.

Suffice to say pitching will be a priority this offseason, and probably the next two as well.

Pitching coach Chris Bosio probably could go out on the street and find someone who threw with more conviction that Chris Volstad, more confidence than Travis Wood or more velocity than Brooks Raley. But those were the cards he was dealt, and next year doesn't look to be that much different unless the Cubs spend some money.

Samardzija will return to head the staff after being shut down in mid-September, while Garza may return if the Cubs can't find a suitable buyer. Any thoughts of Garza getting an extension probably were doused by his elbow injury, and the real question is whether to showcase him for a deal in spring training or wait until the trading deadline in July.

Volstad wasn't expected to be a top-line starter, but neither was he expected to post a 6.31 ERA in 26 starts, going 3-12 in his Cubs' debut. Like the long-forgotten Randy Wells, he figures to be non-tendered.

Wood's EREA was a more respectable 4.27, which figures to earn him a return to the rotation, though he went 2-10 with a 5.07 ERA in the second half. Raley, Chris Rusin, Justin Germano and Jason Berken combined to go 5-18, and none is expected to get anything more than a courtesy invite to spring training, if that.

Free agent starters Shaun Marcum and Anibal Sanchez will be available, along with Jake Peavy if the White Sox decline his option, as expected. Whether the Cubs will be able to fill the rotation with that kind of talent is a question only club President Theo Epstein knows.

As for the bullpen, only Marmol, James Russell and Shawn Camp are likely to be back, assuming the Cubs don't trade Marmol, who wants to return. Jaye Chapman, acquired in the Paul Maholm deal, showed enough promise in a September call-up -- limiting opposing hitters to a .200 average in 14 games -- that he probably will get a shot at making the roster. Michael Bowden also showed vast improvement after returning from Triple-A Iowa in August, posting a 1.33 ERA in 27 innings. He deserve a chance in spring as well. 

But that's about it.

Manny Corpas had a 5.01 ERA. Lendy Castillo was a Rule 5 pick who didn't pan out, and barely pitched for that matter. Alberto Cabrera and Rafael Dolis both have live arms, but neither has proven themselves capable of throwing strikes  consistently. Dolis was even handed the closer's role after Marmol's early-season struggles, a decision that seemed crazy at the time, and even crazier in hindsight. Jeff Beliveau looked good in spurts, but opposing hitters finished with a .956 OPS against him.

General manager Jed Hoyer said the Cubs would seek pitching aggressively this offseason, but whether they will spend the necessary money to alter the direction of the staff is unknown.

Bosio will have his hands full again, trying to keep from going insane. Good luck with that.

psullivan@tribune.com

Twitter @PWSullivan

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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