The Cubs pulled a fast one on us but for Cubs Den readers this is a familiar name. Jon Heyman is tweeting that the Cubs have agreed to sign 28 year old RHP Carlos Villanueva.
He was another one of the names I targeted back in September.
As a starter, he has allowed just a .281 OBP and a .670 OPS in 12 starts. His K/BB ratio has been an outstanding 3.94. The strikeout rate has stayed at about a K per inning but it's the improved control that has made all the difference in the world for Villanueva. He has gone from a rate of 5.67/9 IP to 2.25/9 IP as a starter. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed, however, and there should be heavier than expected competition for Villanueva's services this winter.
The market didn't develop for Villanueva as I expected despite his strong finish. There were lingering doubts as to whether he had the durability to be a starter. He'll likely get the opportunity to start the year in the rotation and then things will sort themselves out once Scott Baker returns from his injury.
After the Cubs lost out on Sanchez, I mentioned Villanueva once again as a likely candidate.
At the time I said this:
The name I like here is 29 year old Carlos Villanueva. He gives the Cubs some flexibility in that he was successful both as a starter and out of the bullpen last year. He has even closed in his career. The reason Villanueva is a potential bargain is that 1) he doesn't have a long track record of success and 2) teams are convinced he won't hold up as a starter long term. With regard to the first reason, that is a valid concern. Villanueva has always had talent, but never put it together until last season. His command has improved significantly,however, over the past two seasons and that has been the main reason for his turnaround. With regard to the second issue, he may not have to be a full-time starter for the Cubs. He can start the season in the rotation but potentially return to the bullpen once Scott Baker comes back. He could then regain a spot later in the season if the Cubs make trades at the deadline. At the same time, if he shows he can hold up as a starter, there's nothing to say that another pitcher, perhaps Travis Wood or Scott Feldman, can go to the bullpen. Or perhaps it means the Cubs can deal a pitcher earlier in season. It offers the team a lot of flexibility.
If the Cubs turn to free agency, then given the potential to add value and some flexibility, my choices now are Villanueva and Francisco Liriano.
Good signing and perhaps a better fit for a rebuilding team.