Randy Wells & Rebuilding The Cubs Starting Rotation

Is Randy Wells a viable NL ROY candidate? The answer is yes? Oh my!

Had you told me that Randy Wells would be tied for the team lead in wins before the 2009 season started, I would have predicted doom and devastation for the Cubs.

And for the most part, that's what this season has been.

Yet, Wells has been one of the team's few bright spots.
He's got 10 wins, a 2.90 earned run average and a 1.223 WHIP in 21 starts. No Cubs rookie starter has posted numbers like that since Kerry Wood did so in 1998. But that's where the comparisons with the man once known as Kid K will end.  Woody, a former 1st round pick, whiffed 233 batters in 166.2 innings en route to a Rookie of the Year campaign which ended with his arm falling off and missing the 1999 season.

Wells, a converted catcher who couldn't cut it with the Toronto Blue Jays before being returned to the Cubs as a Rule V pick, is nothing more than your run-of-the-mill pitcher.  He doesn't possess a flaming fastball or a knee-buckling bender.  Armed with a sinking fastball, Wells hasn't completely sucked -- save for two starts against the Washington Nationals and a start against the St. Louis Cardinals.

With those kinds of numbers, the Rookie of the Year candidate, who could surpass Wood as he is projected to make five or six starts to close the season, is a virtual lock for next year's rotation.

The Cubs have $42.375 million tied up in next year's starting rotation as Carlos Zambrano ($73 million remaining on his contract), Ryan Dempster ($40 million) and Ted Lilly ($12 million) are scheduled to return to the North Side.

As a comparison, the Dodgers' top two starters (Billingsley, Kershaw) combined to make $879,000 in 2009 and will see the contracts of Randy Wolf ($5 Million) and Jason Schmidt ($12 million) come off the books after the season.

And while there are advocates against re-signing Rich Harden, that just means the Cubs would have a battle for the final spot in the rotation between lefties Sean Marshall and Tom Gorzelanny.

Before you get all excited, consider this. Marshall is 16-26 (!) as a starting pitcher.  In that role, he owns a 4.86 ERA and a 1.434 WHIP.  As a reliever, Marshall owns a 3.25 ERA, 1.295 WHIP and is holding batters to a .225 batting average.

Gorzelanny, as versatile as he is, doesn't really wow me either.  Sure, he posted a 14-10 record for a lowly Pittsburgh Pirates team as a rookie, but overall, the numbers aren't that great.  In fact, they are on the same plane as Marshall's.  Gorzelanny owns a 24-26 record as a starter to go along with a 4.73 ERA and a 1.491 WHIP.  But in his defense, he spent five-and-a-half years in Pittsburgh.

With that said, the final month of the season should be used to see if one of these lefties will cut it in 2010.

Beyond that, what should the Cubs do?  They should start with offering Harden arbitration, and if they lose a bidding war, so be it, they'll get two draft picks in return.  John Lackey headlines a weak free-agent market, which could make Zambrano, Dempster or even Lilly valuable commodities on the trade market.

If the Arizona Diamondbacks exercise their $500,000 buyout on injured starter Brandon Webb, the Cubs should take a flier on him.

As of press time, the Cubs rank in the top five of National League pitching staffs in strikeouts (1,009, 4th), ERA (3.94, 5th), K/9 (7.8, 2nd), H/9 (8.3, 3rd) while ranking sixth in WHIP (1.335).

So, short of rounding out the rotation with retreads such as Randy Johnson, Andy Pettitte, Randy Wolf or Jarrod Washburn, what should the Cubs do in regards to building a starting rotation?