Assuming a work stoppage doesn’t stop the 2022 season in its tracks, the Chicago Cubs are going to need plenty of arms for the starting rotation.
They have exactly one proven MLB starter, albeit one who just had the worst year of his career, another guy who will slot in at #5, if at all, three young guys who excelled in the bullpen, and an arm that is going to try to pitch himself into consideration.
In order, those men are Kyle Hendricks, Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson and Adrian Sampson.
Clearly, that group doesn’t have the making of a quality big league rotation. I suspect that a quality shortstop and a good glove at first would go a long way toward fixing what’s wrong with Hendricks, whose ground-ball offerings often found themselves leaking out into center field between second and short, and because a simple eye test would say that second base was ably manned by most of the personnel that appeared there.
Projected starting second baseman Nick Madrigal isn’t known as a dependable glove but his bat virtually guarantees his spot. Nico Hoerner is penciled in at short, but he has shown himself thus far to be injury-prone, and David Ross recently said that it would be ‘naive’ to count on him.
So… the position player carousel being the subject for another article, let’s stick with the initial premise. The free agent class does feature some potential arms. Some are likely to get qualifying offers – Carlos Rodon and Marcus Stroman among them. The Mets are rumored to be prepared to offer Noah Syndergaard a Q.O. The Blue Jays will almost certainly do the same with Robbie Ray.
Chicago Cubs: Breaking down some potential additions to the rotation
Let’s say for the sake of argument that the Cubs are looking to sign two pitchers for the rotation. There are still some people that would look good in blue pinstripes. Dylan Bundy and Steven Matz are probably at the top of that list. Both throw hard enough to make a distinct change from the Hendricks/Mills archetype and have enough MLB experience that they are known quantities. Neither are worldbeaters but they take the ball and don’t spend inordinate amounts of time on the IL.
Jon Gray is a third name worth considering, and let’s call Aaron Sanchez the fourth, for reasons of age, affordability, ability. The other 29 teams will be looking at those arms, as well. Some might be willing to give up a draft pick and overpay for one of the top four – a contending team could get over the top with a typical season from any of them.
The Cubs are unlikely to be contenders. If it happens, it’ll happen by accident, not by design, which is the team’s longtime template.
Justin Steele was the most impressive of the Cubs young arms, but his left arm might be needed in the bullpen, depending on how things shake out. So I’m going to slot Alzolay into the third slot for the sake of this exercise. Keegan Thompson stays in the pen.
Hendricks, for now, is the #1. Let’s believe that Bundy and Matz are welcomed into the fold. Bundy is a decent pitcher that was with a bad team, and is well under .500 for his career, with an inflated ERA and peripherals. He had a pretty good year in 2020 and struggled through his second year with the Angels, who became a bad team in that time. Let’s slot him in behind Alzolay.
Matz, on the other hand, has been a career Met, with one year in Toronto. He’s a couple games under .500 lifetime but throws a ton of ground balls, has a good variety of pitches, throws hard, and makes all of his starts. Let’s slot him #2.
Bundy and Matz both made less than 10 million in 2021. They’d be adequate for a team who is likely to sit around .500, and those potential salary levels would make them attractive.
Rodon and Syndergaard would be my first choices, but I presume that they’ll be unavailable. Let’s see what happens… but I could live with a rotation of Hendricks, Matz, Alzolay, Bundy, Mills.
This could spun a lot of different ways, but that looks like the Jed Hoyer ideal of ‘intelligent spending’.