The last few days have seen the Cubs connected to several pitchers with varying degrees of relation to the organization and recent developments could see a homecoming or two. Though Jed Hoyer probably doesn’t have enough for two major league deals, at least not ones of any significance, he may have a little more wiggle room between Joc Pederson‘s salary structure and Tom Ricketts reportedly increasing the baseball budget.
We don’t know which of those is the chicken and which is the egg, but let’s operate under the assumption that Ricketts green-lit more spending in order to allow Hoyer to sign the former Dodgers outfield. Hoyer then set up the $7 million deal so that what by all indications is a fairly sizable portion of it is deferred in the way of a buyout on a mutual option for 2022.
So just for the sake of example, let’s say Ricketts okayed an extra $10 million for this season. Rather than taking up 70% of that, Pederson may account for less than half. Remember, we’re talking actual payroll and not the amount used to calculate the Cubs’ competitive balance tax number. That could leave something like $5-6 million to spend on pitchers, which is where Hoyer has turned his attention.
He’s looking to add two starters to flesh out a core rotation that so far includes Kyle Hendricks, Alec Mills, Zach Davies, and Adbert Alzolay. They’re going to need at least three more pitchers to get through the season due to fallout from 2020 and natural attrition from injury and performance, so the key here is to strike the right balance between adding veteran depth and leaving opportunities for young pitchers to prove themselves.
To that end, the Cubs had scouts in attendance at Jake Arrieta‘s Friday showcase and may have been at Mike Foltynewicz‘s workout as well. They will watch Carlos Rodón and Jeff Samardzija throw on Saturday and they’ve also been tied to Chris Archer, who hasn’t pitched since 2019 due to thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. It’s no coincidence that this group includes two former Cubs, a former Cubs prospect, a former White Sox starter, and a northern Illinois native whose in-laws are Cubs season ticket holders.
It’s even less of a coincidence that all five pitchers are battling some combination of age, injury, or alarming decreases in performance. You need every bit of leverage you can find when even your expanded budget is tight, so a hometown discount could allow the Cubs to save on a group of already buy-low pitchers. More than that, we have to go back to the idea that the Cubs aren’t looking for a starter to two to come in and eat up 200 innings apiece.
In fact, they may actually prefer to add a couple guys who are going to need pitch/innings limits and extra days of rest because that allows those younger pitchers to serve as piggyback starters or swingmen. Though that’s far from ideal for a team that has counted on its rotation as a foundation for success over the past few seasons, there’s really not much of a choice at this point.
The other potential angle here, and this isn’t something I believe Hoyer is truly leaning on, is that mixing in a little nostalgia with the obvious youth movement is something for fans to get excited about. I don’t necessarily mean the folks who are here reading this or who understand what’s happening on a granular level, but the starry-eyed devotees whose adoration for the team results in naivete no doubt love the idea of Jake and Shark back in Cubbie Blue.
Hell, I’m all for a little theater of the absurd and will fully embrace the chaos as long as it means still getting to see Tyson Miller, Justin Steele, Cory Abbott, and Brailyn Márquez as well. However, I think Rodón and Foltynewicz are actually the best fits with the greatest chances of rebounding and becoming trade chips at the deadline. The former could work out particularly well in a long relief or swing role, something the White Sox have apparently discussed with him.
There are still quite a few other options out there, but I’d expect we see the Cubs move relatively quickly after this weekend with at least one of the pitchers named here. Doing so will give pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and VP of pitching Craig Breslow that much more time to develop a strategy for the coming season and to figure out how to get the most out of their new acquisition(s).
Update: Rodón has agreed to a new deal with the White Sox, pending a physical.
Carlos Rodon goes back to White Sox, pending physical.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 30, 2021
Update #2: Well, the Cubs did make a pitching move Saturday but it wasn’t quite what we expected. As Cubs Insider was first to report, they signed former Pirates righty Trevor Williams to a big league deal. He’s definitely a reclamation project and will earn around $2.5 million as the Cubs hope they can turn some things around with his performance.