Chicago Cubs add an intriguing high upside arm via free agency

(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /
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Don’t be surprised if we see a lot of these types of signings from the Chicago Cubs this offseason – a high-risk, high-reward guy whose future is unclear.

In recent years, Theo Epstein has uncovered some gems when bargain shopping. We saw left-handers Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck play integral roles for the Cubs in 2019 – not to mention hard-throwing right-hander Rowan Wick. If the Cubs‘ latest move is any indication, we could see a similar approach to re-stocking the pitching staff this offseason.

Chicago reportedly agreed to terms on a one-year deal with former Atlanta Braves right-hander Dan Winkler, who’s battled his share of injuries in his playing career – but has some promising peripherals that suggest he could be an impact reliever.

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At first glance, you might think this is a move that makes little sense. Last season, the right-hander made 27 appearances, working to a 5.84 FIP and -0.3 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. That’s hardly worth a 25-man roster spot, let alone a high-leverage role in the bullpen of a team that’s hoping to contend in 2020.

But he’s barely removed from a strong 2018 showing – he averaged north of 10 punchouts per nine that year, tossing 60 1/3 innings of quality work out of the Atlanta pen. Back in 2014, he went under the knife, undergoing Tommy John surgery – only to fracture his right elbow upon his return two years later.

That all seems to be in the past, though. Now, it’s a matter of turning stuff into results. The Cubs don’t have a lot to lose in this deal. It’s a $750K deal that could double in value through incentives. Winkler has minor league options remaining and could, at least in theory, be controllable through 2021 if he proves he can stick with the big league club.

According to MLB.com, the righty has showcased some numbers that make him a particularly intriguing addition to the mix.

"The average spin rate (2,542 RPM) on his four-seamer, for example, ranked 19th among 517 pitchers with at least 100 results. Winkler — who relies on a cutter, four-seamer, curve and sinker — also had high spin rates on his other offerings."

Of course, this same logic prompted the Cubs to sign Tyler Chatwood to a three-year, $39 million two years ago. He bounced back last year to a degree, but his first season in Chicago was an unmitigated disaster as the right-hander led all of baseball in free passes.

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Hopefully, both guys can tap into their elite spin rate offerings and help David Ross‘ bullpen take shape. Craig Kimbrel, along with Wick and Ryan, will undoubtedly play integral roles moving forward. Given the number of losses from last year’s group, though, Chicago will need to hit on some of these under-the-radar signings to have success next season.