NEW YORK – It’s too strong to say the Cubs are “interested” in Jon Niese. In the endless search for pitching, Theo Epstein’s front office has kicked around just about every name that might be available between now and the July 31 trade deadline.
You got the sense that Niese isn’t anywhere close to the top of the wish list – if the New York Mets left-hander is still even on it at all – since the Cubs want more of an upgrade for their rotation. Niese would also cost young talent plus around $3.5 million for the second half of this season and $9 million guaranteed in 2016.
The deeper issue for the Cubs on Tuesday could be traced back to an MRI machine some 800 miles from Citi Field, where Niese (3-8, 3.90 ERA) looked sharp for seven innings but still came away with a tough-luck 1-0 loss.
Duane Underwood Jr. – maybe the pitching prospect with the highest ceiling in the entire organization – had traveled to Chicago for tests on his right elbow (and tweeted about it) after feeling discomfort during his last start for advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach.
“We’ll find out,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “He was really raw and young when we got him and he’s developed really well. He’s got great stuff. The nature of pitching is there’s going to be stops and starts.
“Hopefully, he’s fine. But you know going in when you draft pitchers – or have pitching prospects – there may be times when they’re down and you sort of hope for the best health-wise.”
The Cubs don’t have many major-league-ready arms in their farm system – certainly no one close to confidently stepping into their rotation – even after using 80 picks on pitchers in the four drafts run so far by the Epstein administration.
To be fair, the Cubs used four first-round picks on position players during that time – including fast-track hitters Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber – and reshaped their pitching staff through trades (Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, Kyle Hendricks, Neil Ramirez, Justin Grimm).
“It’s too early to tell,” Hoyer said. “We have a lot of guys at the lower levels that we’re excited about. Especially if you take high school pitchers, you just know that they’re not going to factor for you for awhile. You just got to develop them and take your time.
“You hope that the payoff comes at some point, but it’s a long road when you draft an 18-year-old pitcher.”
The Cubs chose Underwood in the second round of the 2012 draft out of Pope High School in Georgia. He’s gone 6-3 with a 2.66 ERA in 12 starts for Myrtle Beach this season, standing out in an organization that has bet heavily on hitters.
General manager Sandy Alderson runs the Mets now, but the franchise is rich in pitching – Niese, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz – primarily because of players drafted during the Omar Minaya administration. The Mets fired Minaya after the 2010 season.
“People always talk about how you need six prospects to have one,” Hoyer said. “You always talk about your pitching prospects, but there has to be a realization that guys are going to get hurt. Look at the Mets. They lose Harvey for a year. They lose (Zack) Wheeler for a year. It happens. You have to have the depth to withstand it.
“We’ve talked about our imbalance. We know we’ve got a lot of really good bats (and) our bats are ahead of our arms. We got to keep working to address that.”