Cubs

Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano are on this year's Hall of Fame ballot

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AP

Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano are on this year's Hall of Fame ballot

Two of the Cubs' greatest starting pitchers are among the 33 names on this year's Hall of Fame ballot.

Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano, both longtime fixtures in the North Side starting rotation, landed on the ballot for the first time. Legendary Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa is on the ballot for the sixth year.

Wood accomplished one of baseball's all-time most impressive feats, striking out 20 Houston Astros on May 6, 1998, in just his fifth start in the big leagues. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1998 and was a two-time All Star in his 12 seasons with the Cubs.

Wood was a member of that stellar starting rotation in 2003, helping the Cubs to their first-ever NL Central title with a 3.20 ERA and a baseball-leading 266 strikeouts in 32 starts. Injuries, however, plagued Wood throughout his career with the Cubs, and after making those 32 starts in 2003 and 22 more in 2004, he started just 14 games for the remainder of his career.

Still, Wood is one of the most recognizable and celebrated pitchers in franchise history, No. 3 on the team's all-time strikeout list. Only 13 pitchers have appeared in more games with the Cubs than Wood.

Zambrano was also a part of that 2003 team in his third season in the majors. He spent all but one season of his 12-season big league career with the Cubs, making 282 starts and three All-Star teams. He finished in the top five in NL Cy Young voting three times: in 2004, 2006 and 2007. The 2004 campaign was Zambrano's finest, as he posted a 2.75 ERA in 31 starts for a Cubs team that nearly made a repeat trip to the postseason.

Zambrano had a famously hot temper and earned as many cheers for his on-field antics as he did for his pitching prowess. While some of those memorable blow-ups might resonate with fans a little more in the long run, he's one of the franchise's greatest pitchers ever, No. 2 on the team's all-time strikeout list, behind only Fergie Jenkins, and No. 15 on the wins list. Only seven pitchers have started more games in a Cubs uniform than Zambrano.

Statistically, Sosa seems like a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame, No. 9 on baseball's all-time home runs list with 609 dingers and the only player ever to have three 60-homer seasons. But it has been difficult for him to get votes from the writers. He received just 8.6 percent of votes last season. To be elected to the Hall of Fame, a player needs to appear on 75 percent of ballots.

Two other ex-Cubs, Fred McGriff and Jamie Moyer, are also on this year's ballot.

Cubs plan to keep stockpiling pitching even as 2018 staff comes into focus

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AP

Cubs plan to keep stockpiling pitching even as 2018 staff comes into focus

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — In a way, the Cubs are playing not to lose right now.

That may seem like an odd way to approach the MLB offseason for a team that has made it to three straight National League Championship Series. 

But in reality, it's a smart way to gear up for 2018.

Theo Epstein's front office knows they can't count on the remarkable run of health the Cubs pitching staff posted in 2015-16. Last year, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks missed several weeks each with injuries, but the staff was otherwise pretty healthy.

So this winter is all about pitching, pitching, pitching and more pitching. It's a war of attrition and the Cubs are trying not to lose the war.

The Cubs entered the offseason with a clear need for two starting pitchers, a closer and at least one other high-leverage reliever. They've since signed Tyler Chatwood and reached an agreement with Brandon Morrow that should become official Tuesday morning.

Check off one starter and one impact reliever, a guy who could slot in at closer if the Cubs can't bring back Wade Davis.

That pair of moves has helped the Cubs relax a bit at the MLB Winter Meetings this week at Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort, but the hunt for pitching will never be truly over.

"One way to look at the offseason is to look at all the different ways a season can be sunk and build to mitigate those threats," Epstein said. "Our greatest threats right now relate to pitching and not having enough quality pitching, suffering multiple injuries to pitching, not having enough depth."

Fans want to know about a leadoff hitter and that's fair, but run prevention is dominating the Cubs' attention.

They're open to trades from their glut of young, controllable position players for impact pitching, but Epstein and Co. are also still hot on the free agent market, in talks with Alex Cobb and other potential starters. 

Even after the Morrow signing becomes official, the Cubs still figure to be involved in what Epstein calls a very deep reliever class. 

Morrow doesn't have a long track record of health — he's appeared in more than 20 games in a season just once (2017) since 2012 — but the Cubs are wary of injury issues for every pitcher they acquire. They know full well the injury risks associated with pitching and don't intend to push anybody they sign or trade for.

Joe Maddon is a huge proponent of rest and the Cubs have no interest in running relievers — closers or not — into the ground by having them throw more than three outs on a consistent basis.

Is there any scenario in which the Cubs leave the "Happiest Place on Earth" with a content feeling about their 2018 pitching staff?

"You can't dictate the timetable, so I think an opportunity that really makes sense presents itself and we hesitate, I'd be disappointed," Epstein said. "But I also don't want to make something happen just for the sake of making something happen.

"We'll try to be really thorough, try to be really creative and try to be aggressive when appropriate to continue to round out this pitching staff. It really doesn't matter when you get stuff done — at the winter meetings, after the winter meetings, in January, in spring training — as long as you end up having a pitching staff that is really talented and deep enough to withstand the attrition that always happens during the course of the season.

"We'd love to add another starter one way or another if we could and at least one more reliever."

CubsTalk Podcast: Cubs continue hunt for pitching while Kyle Schwarber is again linked in trade talks

CubsTalk Podcast: Cubs continue hunt for pitching while Kyle Schwarber is again linked in trade talks

MLB Network’s Dan Plesac stops by the CubsTalk Podcast to discuss Kyle Schwarber’s trade value, how the Cubs can solve their pitching deficiencies and why Wade Davis should still be on their radar even after the soon-to-be-official signing of Brandon Morrow.

Plus, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki break down why they are now even more convinced Schwarber won’t be traded, how far the Cubs got in Giancarlo Stanton talks, why Kyle Hendricks was part of the Shohei Ohtani recruiting package and how the 2018 bullpen may look.

Listen to the entire podcast here: