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I busted out my "W" flag t-shirt Sunday after it had sat in the closet throughout the baseball offseason. I thought the Cubs' signing of Yu Darvish warranted a little celebration. Plus pitchers and catchers report tomorrow and that is always a great day.
But the Darvish signing wasn't all good news for the North Siders. It was another reminder, in an offseason full of them, of management's failure, more than six years into its tenure, to successfully draft and develop pitchers of any note.
Darvish was the seventh free agent pitcher signed to a major league contract by the Cubs this offseason. That is the most free agent pitchers signed by a major league club to major league deals in one off-season since 2010. And that is clearly not good.
I am as confident as anyone that the Cubs will contend with the Dodgers, the Nationals and others for the top spot in the National League this coming season. And all credit to Theo and the boys for doing what needed doing to build a staff with that sort of potential.
But if the Cubs don't start churning out some better young arms at some point soon, they are going to have a problem. Augmenting your homegrown core with free agents is delightful. Making free agents your core? Less so.
Before Darvish, the Cubs had brought on board Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek to fortify the back end of the bullpen. They re-signed and signed lefties Brian Duensing and Dario Alvarez to try to ensure they could take advantage of the maximum number of match-ups.
Tyler Chatwood was brought in from the Rockies and is projected to bookend the rotation with Darvish. And the Cubs even brought in a guy, Drew Smyly, for next year. Smyly will spend at least most of this season recovering from Tommy John surgery in the middle of 2017.
Even the pitchers on the Cubs staff who seem like homegrown guys like Kyle Hendricks and Carl Edwards came to the organization in trades. They then developed in the Cubs system but still clearly don't count as drafted-and-developed talents.
Hendricks was the big prize when the Cubs dumped Ryan Dempster and Edwards came to the club along with Justin Grimm among others when the team traded Matt Garza. It is important to remember that while former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry is remembered derisively as the guy who focused on signing free agents rather than developing talent, Hendry left Theo and Co. all sorts of tradeable assets when he departed. Garza, Dempster, Jeff Samardzija (Addison Russell) and Andrew Cashner (Anthony Rizzo) all brought great returns.
In fact, when you take a close look back at the Cubs' rebuild, you realize that current Cubs management did its best work with trades and free agent signings. Kris Bryant is the one, shining example of a homegrown superstar, but most observers would agree he was about ready to go at the major league level when he arrived with the club after a storied college career at the University of San Diego.
Bryant's fellow "top 10 in the first round picks," Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ, have contributed, but not as much as might have been hoped. And then you have to look hard for guys who are even major-league ready.
Want a guy in the system to root for? Stephen Ridings was the team's eighth-round pick in 2016 and later that year underwent the ubiquitous surgery named for the iron man pitcher (John) who starred for the White Sox and Dodgers among others.
Ridings missed all of last year but is ready go this time around and will probably break camp in the Cubs' low minors. I root for him because he attended my alma mater, Haverford College, and it would be awesome if a fellow Ford made the bigs, especially the Cubs. Ridings is in a bit of a race in that regard with a former teammate. Tommy Bergjans is also a former star for Haverford and was also drafted in the eighth round, although it was in 2015 and it was by the Dodgers. Prior to 2015, no Haverford baseball player had ever been drafted in any round of an MLB draft. What a program!
Bergjans was traded to the Phillies organization in 2016 and had a rough time last season, posting an ERA of over 6.00 with two different minor league teams. So even though Ridings is coming off the arm injury, he might have more of a shot than Bergjans.
Guys like those are the most fun to follow in spring training. And with the Cubs' Opening Day roster close to set (!) before the first day even dawns, we will need distractions like these to keep us interested until the real games arrive at the end of March.
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.
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