MLB Free Agency

How Shota Imanaga fits in the Cubs' 2024 rotation

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The Chicago Cubs have finally made a big splash in the free agent market, reportedly inking Shota Imanaga to a deal.

According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, the deal will be finalized once Imanaga undergoes a physical in Chicago later this week. The contract comes just two days before the posting deadline for the Japanese hurler, who would have gone back to Yokohama had he not signed a deal in the U.S.

Imanaga, 30, posted a 2.66 ERA in 24 starts last season in Japan, with 188 strikeouts in 159 innings pitched.

His strikeout rate has been largely consistent throughout his career, with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings last season with Yokohama.

The Cubs’ top starter will remain Justin Steele barring another move in the trade market or free agency, as he’s been a Cy Young-contending pitcher in the last two seasons.

Despite some late season struggles in 2023, Steele put up a 16-5 record with a 3.06 ERA for the Cubs, striking out 176 batters in 173.1 innings. He was named a National League All-Star for the first time, and finished in fifth in Cy Young voting.

Outside of Steele, it would figure that Imanaga will likely settle into a mid-rotation role, with Jameson Taillon and Kyle Hendricks likely filling two spots as well.

Hendricks, whose contract option was picked up by the Cubs, came back from a shoulder injury to have a solid 2023 season, with a 6-8 record and a 3.74 ERA in 24 starts. His velocity was improved and he was able to limit his walk rate to 1.8 per nine innings, a big improvement over his 2021 and 2022 seasons.

As for Taillon, he struggled badly in his first year with the Cubs, with an 8-10 record and a 4.84 ERA. He’ll be aiming to recapture the form he showed in 2022 with the New York Yankees, as his walk rate and home run rate increased with his move to the National League.

As for the fifth starter, there are several contenders for the role, including Javier Assad and Jordan Wicks, both of whom saw time in the rotation last season.

Hayden Wesneski is also a contender depending on where the team envisions his role, and if he can ease some of the split concerns he had last season, struggling to retire left-handed hitters for much of the year.

Finally, Drew Smyly could also be in the mix after picking up his player option for the 2024 campaign.

More clarity could potentially emerge at this week’s Cubs Convention, when manager Craig Counsell faces media for the first time since the winter meetings.

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