For the first time in a long time, the Chicago Cubs have had a completely positive week. One week, three moves, all good. Jim Hendry hasn’t had this good a week since he wrote $400 million worth of checks in 2006. Two cheap, solid free agent signings make the headlines, but a third move might be more important.
Carlos Pena fills in at first base for a year, and does so for almost no money. He provides the team with the left handed power they need, and his defense will keep the left side of the infield from committing too many errors. Pena won’t be on the next Cubs team to make the playoffs, but he will thrive at Wrigley this season, before signing a mega-deal somewhere else. His home runs will keep us fans happy, which is just about all we can ask for.
Kerry Wood’s return is of greater importance though, not just because he’s Kerry Wood. The Cubs now have an established set-up man to team with Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol. For just $1.5 million, he’s practically working for free, which has made him even more of a folk hero to Cubs fans. The fans are happy right now, which is a rare thing these days.
The true baseball benefit of Wood’s return is that Andrew Cashner will become a starting pitcher again. Forget the rest for a moment, this is the biggest win for the Cubs. Cashner is the team’s best pitching prospect, and needed a full time audition as a MLB starter. He dominated both AA and AAA as a starter, before the desperate Cubs moved him to the bullpen.
Now he has the chance to fulfill his potential as a starter, giving the Cubs a potential ace down the line. If Wood hadn’t shown up, odds are the Cubs would have kept Cashner in the bullpen, further inhibiting his development. The Cubs haven’t been willing to commit fully to rebuilding, instead hedging their bet, which meant Cashner’s long term development was ignored in favor of trying to win 80 games this season.
Regardless of whether or not Cashner actually becomes a dominant starting pitcher, he needed to be given the chance. The upside is just too great to be wasted in the eighth inning. Starlin Castro wasn’t used as a utility infielder, and Cashner shouldn’t be left in the bullpen.
That is why the Cubs win the week, they got better for both the short and long term. Pena and Wood will entertain us this season, even if it is in a mostly losing effort. Cashner will get to be a starting pitcher, giving us a little bit hope for the future as well. Even though 2011 appears to be a lost season, short-term fixes have managed to boost the chances of long term success.