If the Cubs have learned anything this offseason, it’s that arms are going quick.
The Cubs are looking to replace at least two arms in the rotation, potentially more. They will have to move swiftly in order to sign top targets, if free agency is the vehicle they choose to bolster the rotation.
Left-handers Robbie Ray and Drew Smyly have already inked one-year deals. The Toronto Blue Jays gave Ray $8 million, while the Atlanta Braves are paying Smyly – who made just five starts this past year – a rather hefty sum of $11 million in 2021.
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This offseason still figures to be full of financial challenges. Yet, competitive teams seem willing to pay a decent price for starting pitching, which makes sense given some of the shortcomings in that market.
Trevor Bauer is going to cost a fortune. Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman were probably going to be two of the most highly sought-after pitchers after Bauer, but both of them accepted their qualifying offers.
The next-best option might be a guy with about one year left in his lively arm.
Charlie Morton has pondered retirement over the course of the past year, but he appears motivated to give it a go in 2021. The 37-year-old is also an ideal target for the Cubs whether they shake things up or run it back next year.
Morton had a 4.74 ERA in nine starts last year, though he had a 3.45 FIP and 4.01 xFIP, per FanGraphs. The right-hander dominated early in the postseason, giving up one run in his 15 2/3 innings of work before a forgettable World Series performance against the Dodgers.
The Cubs could use a guy like Morton, who has routinely boasted a strong (if not elite) strikeout rate in recent years while also carrying excellent walk and homer rates.
There are two questions when it comes to Morton’s availability: will the veteran to move away from the East Coast, and can the Cubs outbid other suitors?
Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported last week “at least 8 to 10 teams” have expressed interest in Morton. This should come as no surprise, given he was an AL Cy Young finalist in 2019 and had both an ERA and FIP at or below 3.62 in each year between 2017 and 2019.
Feinsand also reported Morton would prefer to stay in Tampa Bay with the Rays, adding both of the New York teams could have a shot given Morton grew up in Connecticut.
Naturally, this makes things difficult for the Cubs. The Rays are unlikely to make Morton a lucrative offer, but probably re-sign him if the offer is at least competitive. Meanwhile, both the Mets and Yankees – two teams in dire need of starting pitching – figure to throw some extra cash around to bring Morton to the Big Apple.
But the Cubs could blow Morton out of the water if they so choose. Chicago has more payroll flexibility this year; what if it offered Morton something in the range of $17 million?
Still, Morton would have absolutely no impact on future payroll, and he undoubtedly would make the team more competitive regardless of which direction the Cubs’ front office goes this winter. Whether they will be aggressive enough is another question.