I usually have a good feel for who the Cubs might be looking at as far as free agent starting pitchers. We’ve been ahead of the game when it has come to pitchers like Chris Volstad, Carlos Villanueva, Scott Feldman, Scott Baker, and Jason Hammel.
This year I am going through the potential free agent list and I just don’t see anyone that jumps out as a buy low/flyer type candidate.
I believe the Cubs will pursue Jon Lester early and aggressively. If they land him, I would expect the Cubs to wait and see how the rest of the market shakes out. The Cubs have said multiple times that they do not believe they need to shore up all their weaknesses at once.
My guess is that most Cubs fans would love to see the Cubs bring in Brandon McCarthy as that secondary arm but a strong finish with the Yankees may make him too expensive for that second pitcher. More importantly, I don’t think the Yankees will want to lose him, They saw something in him they liked and he has met all of their expectations. I also liked the idea of JA Happ, but a strong 2nd half and a reasonable club option likely means he won’t be available – and certainly not at the bargain rate he would have been had he not turned things around.
Here are some other names I took a look at…
Potential Free Agents
Patrick Mooney writes about Justin Masterson as a possible fit. While Cubsfans may have liked this option early this season, things have changed for Masterson. He has had a poor year and perhaps more of a concern, a significant drop in velocity across the board. Yet that may be what becomes appealing. He looked like he was going to be among that 1st tier of free agent pitchers, now he may be looking for a one year deal to reestablish his value. The Cubs are familiar with Masterson and perhaps they see something they can fix. He has also been one of the games biggest underperformers when using the xBABIP statistic, suggesting he could be in line for a bounce back. I suspect that if the Cubs can get him to take a one year deal, then we may see them go take a flyer on their former prospect with the hopes that he can regain his form. The Cubs have built up a reputation of bringing out the best in reclamation projects. That, combined with his familiarity with the front office may appeal to Masterson if he doesn’t get a multi-year offer elsewhere.
The Cubs could also bring back Jason Hammel but despite his slow start after the trade, he may have put himself in line for a multi-year deal. It will be interesting to see how the market plays out because Hammel’s value has certainly fallen since his move to the AL, but will it have fallen enough for the Cubs to get him on another short term deal. I think that’s doubtful. Feldman had so-so results after his trade, yet still parlayed that into a 3 year, $33M deal with the Astros. Feldman is a year younger, so maybe Hammel takes a 2 year deal. That could be a compromise both teams may be able to live with.
Colby Lewis has gotten caught up in a frustrating season with the Rangers. Like Masterson, he has been one of the biggest underperformers when it comes to xBABIP (curiously, Jacob Turner is also on that list, so perhaps this is something the Cubs pay attention to). He has the kind of numbers that would frighten some Cubs fans (10-14, 5.34 ERA) but a .340 BABIP and a low strand rate may have contributed to some of that. He is also a flyball pitcher in the better hitting league while pitching in one of it’s most HR friendly ballparks. He is 6’4″ and perhaps refining his two seamer and using it more often (12% usage as compared to 50% with his 4-seamer) might help. I don’t think he has the velo to work up in the zone and perhaps a change in his approach could make him more effective. He can certainly eat innings (163.1 IP which is right around his 4 year average).
Jake Peavy is another big name and, while his performance is declining over the years, he is still effective (3.78 ERA, 4.16 FIP) and could eat innings (197.2 this year) in the middle of a rotation. He’ll keep the walks down and miss enough bats but the question will be of value. He is still just 33, has played for 4 teams in 2 years, and may be looking for that last multi-year deal to give him some stability late in his career, but given his slow decline I think that makes him extremely risky. If he is still around late in the process, I’d see if he’d be interested in returning to Chicago on a one year deal, perhaps one and an option.
Aaron Harang is now 37 and he has been pretty steady for most of his career. He’ll give you innings (197.2 IP) and keep you in the game (3.60 ERA). He has outperformed Peavy and his peripherals (3.53 FIP) don’t suggest a dropoff, but nothing is a guarantee when a pitcher enters his late 30s. He took a one year deal at just $1M to sign with the Braves. If the Cubs could get him for something similar, then the risk is minimal. They could afford to release him at any point.
Tsuyoshi Wada has a $5M year option and has performed well for the Cubs. His numbers are as good as any pitcher on this list (3.22 ERA; 3.67 FIP). Despite his age — he will be 34 next year — Wada is not a proven pitcher in the MLB and is a candidate for regression as teams become familiar with him. His stuff is fringy, his command is average — yet he has gotten away with working up in the zone. A relatively low BABIP and HR/FB ratio may make it difficult for him to repeat his performance. I think the Cubs wouldn’t mind bringing Wada back, the question is whether they would want to bring him back at $5M and a guaranteed roster spot when he is basically an unproven 34 year old 5th starter with a history of injuries.
Franklin Morales has not been good. But he is lefty, throws hard (90-94), and has been acquired by this front office in the past. He showed some promise early on with a 3.73 ERA, while also showing career best control numbers (about a 9% walk rate or 3.5 walks per 9 IP) and nearly a strikeout per inning in 108.2 innings with the Red Sox between 2011-2012. Like Lewis, he throws his 4-seamer a lot and gets hit hard, perhaps suggesting that it lacks movement or that it is being poorly located. He is a former top prospect, is just 28, and still has raw ability, but the performance has been abysmal with no way to spin it. I do think there is more talent here than with Felix Doubront with better potential to be effective out of the bullpen as a fallback. He also has amassed enough innings to where he can be relied on to eat innings this year should he be a starter. Maybe Chris Bosio can work his magic here but I certainly would prefer to look at him on a minor league deal where I could easily send him to the minors if he doesn’t perform in the spring.
Kenta Maeda doesn’t have the stuff or physical build of Yu Darvish or Masahiro Tanaka, but the 25 year old star RHP of the NPB has gotten results. It’s a question of value here. Will teams bid high based on the success of the aforementioned pitchers or will they bid something more appropriate of an unproven pitcher with a 4/5 profile. If it’s the latter then I would kick the tires.
The Diamondbacks put Trevor Cahill on waivers this year for the purpose of sending him to the minors. He has ghastly numbers this year: 3-12 this year with a 5.55 ERA and it’s possible they could just give up on him this time around. He will be just 27 next year, has shown no dip in his velocity, and yes…he is one of those pitchers who has vastly underperformed versus his xBABIP. The traditional BABIP is .350 and the strand rate is at 63% — both are likely unsustainable. As such, his FIP of 3.89 is substantially lower than his BABIP. One culprit is a drop in his groundball rate so perhaps there is something they can fix with his approach. He had been a groundball machine in the past and that style would suit him well at Wrigley. I like his catcher Miguel Montero as a potential Cubs acquisition, maybe the Cubs can do some one-stop shopping in Arizona.
I like Jeremy Hellickson, yet another xBABIP underperformer, but I don’t like dealing with the Rays who always seem to extract surplus value. One industry source suggested that the Rays would try to pull off a trade on par with the James Shields deal. At that price I would say no thanks. Like Cahill, he is in his prime (27 this year) and should be able to eat innings if he is healthy. My problem is that Hellickson will likely be overvalued while Cahill will likely be undervalued.
Mike Leake is said to be available and fits the mold of athletic pitchers who throw strikes that this front office likes. He will eat innings and give his offense a chance to win the game. There is nothing flashy here but you know what you are getting. Like Hellickson, my concern is whether the Cubs can get fair value here, especially considering they are dealing within their division.
Yes, Rick Porcello is the pitching version of Coco Crisp in that I mention him every year, but he is a luxury on a staff that is headed by 4 TORs in Max Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez. If the Tigers want to keep Scherzer and/or Price, then Porcello may become available. Porcello throws a hard, heavy two seamer that generates ground balls and weak contact, though he doesn’t miss a lot of bats. He will throw strikes (4.6% K rate 1.70 BB/9IP). He would be more of a long term piece than a stopgap, as he is still pre-prime at 25 years old. He’ll be expensive to pry lose and he has just one year of cost control. If the Cubs think they can extend him, that could save them from having to get into a bidding war on the open market next year.
So yeah, I have been thinking about this a lot and I have considered all levels of signings, from the flyer to the stopgap to the potential long term solution. We’ll probably revisit this and whittle down names from this list and perhaps adding another name or two as we know more.
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