It’s the kind of pitching staff that pitching coaches dream of having.
Powerful, young and deep enough to fill a big-league rotation, a bullpen, a disabled list and AAA roster that’s about to send another stud to the big leagues on Tuesday.
“Right now they’re the mold,” Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio said, looking across the field at a formidable young staff that has the New York Mets in first place in the National League East after years of Cub-like rebuilding.
“They’re the team in baseball that everyone looks at like, `Wow.’ “
The Cubs seem to have made a few more national headlines these days with a deep pool of young hitters acquired with purpose since the fourth-year front off of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer began overhauling the organization.
But the Mets’ young, rebuilt core is the immovable pitching object to the Cubs’ unstoppable young hitting force, if you believe the hype – a study in contrasting methods, if not philosophies, playing out for four games at Wrigley Field this week.
Whether this week’s series is a glimpse into some kind of extended, competitive National League rivalry between the new-look former rivals, it’s at least an early litmus test of the Cubs’ hitter-first player-development philosophy in a decade of declining offense.
“Those are the types of conversations that will happen. If all their pitchers do really well, people will talk about the old adage that you can never have too much pitching, that pitching wins championships,” said Cubs general manager Hoyer, whose core drew first blood Monday when rookie Kris Bryant and 25-year-old Anthony Rizzo hit back-to-back homers in the first off last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, Jacob deGrom, in a 4-3 Cubs win.
The Cubs feature a 25-and-under lineup core of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and rookies Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler. The first three Mets’ starters of the series are 20-something power pitchers deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey.
Like Bryant and Russell last month, Syndergaard makes his big-league debut Tuesday.
“Definitely, no question, pitching helps win championships,” Hoyer said. “I think there’s a stability that we sought when we were drafting at the top of the draft, and I think that’s where it led us, in the direction of making sure that we could create a really stable core of offensive players.
“We obviously recognize the value of pitching. We just chose not to draft it when we were picking right at the top of the draft.”
Sandy Alderson’s fifth-year Mets front office didn’t, either – drafting hitters with each of its top picks the last four years. And Mets player development boss Paul DePodesta has a well known fondness for the offensive side of the game.
But between inherited studs such as Harvey and deGrom and veteran-for-prospect trades for guys like Zack Wheeler (on DL) and Syndergaard, the Mets have arrived in a pitching place as enviable in the game as the Cubs’ hitting place. And they’re in no rush to change that.
“This is exactly what we’ve been building towards,” Mets manager Terry Collins said of his ability to drop Syndergaard between deGrom and Harvey in this week’s rotation. “These young, powerful arms that know how to pitch – it’s what every organization tries to do.”
The contrast between the opposing embarrassments of pitching and hitting riches, respectively, have fueled almost constant trade speculation linking the two teams for at least a year.
The rumors reached boiling heat in August when the Cubs went to New York six weeks after acquiring touted shortstop prospect Addison Russell, and the New York media were all over the possibility of trading Castro – whose diving catch of Dilson Herrera’s line drive in the ninth might have saved a run in Monday’s one-run win.
Hoyer acknowledged the teams have talked since the two regimes took power, a natural byproduct of Hoyer’s relationship with DePodesta from their days together in the Padres front office, and a good relationship between Epstein and Alderson.
But don’t count on Castro heading to New York. The Mets aren’t interested, certainly not enough to part with anything close to the return the Cubs would need.
“We haven’t made a deal yet, but there’s been matches that made sense, and I’m sure we’ll talk to them in the future,” Hoyer said. “I guess when you factor in the hitting and the pitching, I guess people think it’s unusual. But it’ll happen at some point.”
So far the Mets haven’t seemed eager to part with any of their top young arms, a position that looked especially wise when the team learned this spring that Wheeler would miss the season with Tommy John surgery.
The Mets, who rank near the bottom of the league in offensive production, might yet seek more hitting, especially if their strong start holds up into the July trading period.
But it’s no accident they were one of the first six teams in the majors to 20 wins even without a good lineup.
“I think sometimes opportunity is what determines your path,” said Hoyer, whose team picks ninth overall in next month’s draft – and hasn’t determined whether this will be its first top pick spent on a pitcher.
Last summer the Cubs expected to get a haul of young pitching when they shopped proven starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel – spending a lot of time, in particular, talking to the Blue Jays about their three top pitching prospects.
But when Oakland’s Billy Beane made the Athletics’ top prospect, Russell, available, Epstein said it was a deal they couldn’t refuse.
The Cubs have acquired starting pitching (Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks) and important pieces of their bullpen (Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop) through other trades, and spent $155 million on Monday’s starter, Jon Lester, to front this year’s staff.
But if the Cubs do what they hope in the next few years, it will be on the back of a formidable lineup of Rizzo, Bryant, Russell, et al – guys that might have to beat Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard someday when it matters to get where they plan to go.
“Pitching and defense is always going to win. Offense is a luxury,” said Bosio, sounding like a guy who has pitched a no-hitter, pitched Opening Day and pitched in the playoffs.
He also likes the Cubs’ chances over the next decade, he said, regardless of what teams like the Mets are doing.
“I’m sure they’ve got a model they’re trying to go by,” he said. “And I know we’ve got one.”