Cubs: Drew Smyly deal may indicate a healthier-than-expected market

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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Drew Smyly’s deal with the Braves should raise an alarm for the Cubs.

It wasn’t so long ago Drew Smyly was a member of the Chicago Cubs organization, laboring through his recovery following Tommy John surgery. In December 2017, the Cubs inked the southpaw to a two-year, $10 million deal knowing full well he likely wouldn’t take the ball at the big league level in the first year of that contract.

Less than a year later, Chicago traded Smyly to Texas for a player to be named later in a sort of roundabout side trade linked to the team’s midseason acquisition of Cole Hamels. After brief stints with the Rangers and Brewers, he inked a one-year deal with the Giants prior to the 2020 campaign.

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This season, the 31-year-old lefty impressed, working to a 3.45 ERA in 26 1/3 innings of work. His fastball saw a major uptick in velocity and the peripherals bode well for Smyly. As MLB Trade Rumors points out, Statcast had his Whiff% in the 89th percentile and his K% in the 97th. He got the job done in San Francisco – and now he’s getting paid.

On Monday, the Atlanta Braves, who one year ago inked Hamels to a one-year, $18 million deal that ended in complete disaster, agreed to a one-year, $11 million deal with Smyly. MLBTR had predicted the veteran would get a one-year pact at just $5 million, so the salary has certainly turned some heads around the game.

One team that should take particular note is the Cubs, who badly need to shore up their pitching depth heading into 2021. Theo Epstein is betting heavily on the ability to find diamonds in the rough and perhaps take advantage of what many believe will be a suppressed market in regards to payroll and player salaries.

This year, Smyly showed that when healthy (key piece to the puzzle there) he’s capable of competing at the big league level. But his injury history has to be concerning for Braves fans. Atlanta really needs some backend depth in the rotation – and after the Hamels debacle this year – a repeat isn’t exactly what they want to see.

We could see the Cubs give internal options like Adbert Alzolay, Cory Abbott or Tyson Miller a more serious look if the Smyly signing is an indication of what’s to come this winter. Simply put, payroll isn’t going to be anywhere near that $200 million mark and will likely clock in well below that figure when Opening Day 2021 hits.

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Granted, this could be a one-off occurrence. Teams could be clutching the purse strings tighter than we’ve seen in a long while. But with promising COVID-19 vaccine news hitting the airwaves lately, perhaps owners will roll the dice hoping fans will be back at the ballpark next season.