The Chicago Cubs might look to add a free-agent starting pitcher this winter, but it almost certainly will not be Zack Wheeler.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported on Tuesday that he already received an offer north of $100 million and is likely to sign for somewhere in the range of five years.
Wheeler would seemingly have been a player that Cubs brass might otherwise like to chase. He is young (29) and has plenty of velocity, with a fastball in the upper 90s and one of the hardest sliders in the game. Not to mention, he excels at inducing soft contact.
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The right-hander ranked in the top four percent of the league in terms of average exit velocity (AEV) against in 2018, and he yielded an AEV of just 86.2 mph last season, according to Baseball Savant.
Unfortunately, there is no way that the Cubs are going to shell out $100 million in guaranteed money, much less $20 million in annual value. Otherwise, they might be making more noise in terms of re-signing Cole Hamels on a potential one-year deal.
With so many teams hoping to add starting pitching and only so many quality starters available, the Cubs were always going to face steep competition for top arms. Wheeler–who might be the third-best pitcher aside from Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg–is no different.
There is a reason that 40 players were non-tendered on Monday. Front offices are shedding as much payroll as possible because they see opportunity in the open market.
What does this mean for the rest of the offseason?
If Wheeler is off the market before the opening of Winter Meetings, left-handers Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu might be the best starter available. But given the likely contractual gaps between Cole and Strasburg and those two, they might be in line for overpays themselves.
So, are the Cubs merely going to rely on internal measures? It certainly appears that way, as of right now. If they do indeed attempt to trade Willson Contreras or Kris Bryant, they would almost certainly ask for an MLB-ready starter in return.
Otherwise, the Cubs might have to turn to a committee. Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills both have starting experience, so they are obvious choices in that case. Duane Underwood Jr. could be another option if he is not targeted for a middle relief role.
Or, perhaps the Cubs will look to sign an innings-eater like Dallas Keuchel, Rick Porcello, Tanner Roark or Michael Pineda. After all, they did just claim former Oakland Athletics starter Jharel Cotton on the premise of him being young and cheap.
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Regardless, Wheeler is no longer in the cards for the Cubs, which is a shame considering that he would be the perfect piece to bridge the rotational gap between veterans Jon Lester and Yu Darvish and everyone else.