6 potential Cubs free agent starting pitching targets originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
It didn’t take the Cubs long to begin addressing their biggest offseason need.
The Cubs claimed lefty Wade Miley off waivers last week, adding a dependable veteran to the starting rotation.
The Cubs seized an opportunity with a one-year commitment to Miley after the cost-cutting Reds put him on waivers. He had a $10 million option for 2022, which the Cubs picked up shortly after adding him.
So what’s next? And what about after that? And that?
Free agency officially opened this week and baseball’s executives are gathering in California for the annual GM meetings. The Cubs will be active this winter, namely addressing the starting rotation.
Kyle Hendricks and Miley are the only starters penciled into the 2022 rotation. The Cubs have a handful of in-house options but will look to the open market for rotation help.
Team president Jed Hoyer has said the Cubs plan to spend “intelligently” this winter, so they may stay away from top of the market guys. But there’s pitchers who could help the Cubs and land in their desired contract range.
There's names we could include here, like Marcus Stroman and Yusei Kikuchi — a Boras client some think could fit with the Cubs — but here's six examples we chose to show how the Cubs are looking at the market.
LHP Steven Matz (Blue Jays)
Matz debuted with the Mets in 2015 and was part of the rotation that shut down the Cubs in the NLCS. He had a rough showing in the shortened 2020 season — the Mets moved him to the bullpen and dealt him to the Blue Jays last winter.
Matz had a resurgent 2021 with the Jays. He turned in a 3.82 ERA in 29 starts, striking out 144 (43 walks) in 150 2/3 innings. He finished strong, posting a 2.91 ERA in 14 starts after the All-Star break.
Matz, 31 next season, checks a few boxes for the Cubs as a southpaw with mid-90s velocity. Lefties made only nine starts for the Cubs in 2021, all by Justin Steele. Their rotation was command-control heavy.
Toronto didn’t extend Matz a qualifying offer, so there’s no draft compensation attached to him. He likely falls within the Cubs’ desired range of price and years.
RHP Jon Gray (Rockies)
Colorado kept Gray at the trade deadline with hopes of extending him. That didn’t happen, and they opted not to give him a qualifying offer at the onset of free agency.
Gray has a unique track record as a guy who’s fared better at hitter-friendly Coors Field than on the road. In seven seasons with the Rockies, he holds a career 4.54 ERA at home compared to 4.65 on the road.
His splits were more pronounced in 2021: 4.02 ERA in 14 home starts compared to 5.22 in 15 road starts.
Gray, 30 this month, has strikeout stuff with mid-to-high-90s fastball velocity and a wipeout slider. He’s made 25+ starts four times, including 29 this past season.
Like Matz, Gray may fall in the Cubs’ desired range. Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post reported the right-hander is “likely seeking” a three- or four-year deal worth $9-10 million annually.
Gray and the Rockies have expressed interest in a reunion, but that type of deal for a pitcher with upside would be well worth the Cubs exploring.
RHP Alex Cobb (Angels)
The Cubs were linked to Cobb in free agency four years ago before he landed with the Orioles. It didn’t work out in three seasons with Baltimore, but Cobb had a solid 2021 after an offseason trade to the Angels.
Cobb, 34, made 18 starts while missing nearly two months to a wrist injury. He turned in a 3.76 ERA and 1.264 WHIP — both his best since 2017 — and struck out 98 in 93 1/3 innings, good for a career-high 9.5 K/9. His 3.2 BB/9 was his highest since his first season.
Cobb is a value guy and could be a fit on the North Side as a mid-to-back-end rotation arm.
RHP Anthony DeSclafani, LHP Alex Wood (Giants)
At his end-of-season press conference in October, Hoyer was asked about the Giants’ turnaround to a 107-win team in 2021 following four straight postseason misses.
“You’d be crazy not to look at what they’ve done this year and take notes,” Hoyer said. “They made some really shrewd acquisitions prior to the season.”
It’s unreasonable to expect the Cubs to make a Giants-sized turnaround in 2022, but perhaps there’s something they can take from San Francisco. Literally. DeSclafani and Wood are both free agents again after effective seasons pitching on one-year deals in The Bay.
DeSclafani, 32 next season, had a career year with the Giants after five seasons with the Reds, posting a 3.17 ERA and 1.091 WHIP in 167 2/3 innings — his most since 2015.
He’s missed time to injuries in his career, including an elbow ailment that kept him out all of 2017, but made 31 starts in 2019 and ‘21. He holds a career 4.06 ERA.
Wood made 26 starts in 2021, posting a 3.83 ERA and 1.183 WHIP in 138 2/3 innings. He’s been solid when healthy in his career; he missed a chunk of 2019, spent 2020 largely in relief and has only made 30 starts once (2015).
Wood, 31 in January, profiles as a mid-to-back-end starter. He's been to the postseason seven times between the Braves, Dodgers and Giants.
DeSclafani ($6 million) and Wood ($3 million) are both in line for raises from 2021 and positioned for multi-year deals this winter but still should be in the Cubs’ range.
LHP Carlos Rodón (White Sox)
Rodón’s free agency might be the most fascinating of all starting pitchers on the market. He’s been hampered by arm injuries in his career and re-signed with the White Sox last winter on a low-cost deal after being non-tendered. He responded with a breakout 2021.
The 2014 No. 3 overall pick made his first All-Star team and was in the AL Cy Young conversation for much of the season. He made 24 starts, his most since 2016, and finished with a 2.37 ERA, 0.957 WHIP and 185 strikeouts in 132 2/3 innings.
A big caveat with Rodón this winter is what his medicals look like. After missing time in the second half with shoulder soreness, he flashed triple-digit velocity in his lone playoff start.
If Rodón’s medicals aren’t perfect, perhaps that would make him more likely to sign with someone like the Cubs on another prove-it deal, albeit with a significant raise from the $3 million he made in 2021. He turns 29 in December and the White Sox didn’t extend him a qualifying offer, other enticing aspects of his market.