Chicago Cubs shouldn’t even consider biting on a John Means trade

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Finding a good starting pitcher on the trade market for the Chicago Cubs can be especially difficult with the team needing its prospects in order to get back on top of the NL Central. They can’t afford to give up too much future talent if the return isn’t absolutely worth it both at face value and in the numbers beyond.

John Means, in particular, seems like a reasonable target for the team on paper. Coming from the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles, Means has spent the past few years as their most stable arm in the rotation bar none. He had a solid year in 2021 with a 3.62 ERA and a very respectable 1.030 WHIP. With the Orioles reportedly dipping him in the trade waters, the Cubs should definitely inquire on him, right?

Let’s stop for a second though and think about Means’ sudden availability and everything that goes into it. The Orioles are willing to give up by far their best starter in a deal not long after a poor second half soured an otherwise breakout season. This comes as Means still has three years of control and Baltimore has no need to dump his salary. It really screams that the Orioles aren’t all that confident in Means gaining value going forward and that’s understandable.

Chicago Cubs should be wary of the red flag-laden John Means

Means’ second half was rough and there’s fair reason to believe that wasn’t a fluke. He pitched to 4.88 ERA, though the spin rate is definitely a greater concern as he saw a drop in RPM after returning from a shoulder injury. Any health scares around that area are always going to be a little frightening, especially if it results in a clear decline in production afterward, but this is a recurring issue. Since 2019, he’s had four IL stints with problems related to his shoulder.

That might not be the only explanation for Mean’s decline following his return either. While he was out, MLB cracked down on foreign substances and, while we have no confirmation, there is some suspicion that Means was a user. He never saw his spin rate bounce back fully even after making several starts after returning from the IL. It showed in his opponents’ numbers as the OPS against skyrocketed from .569 in the first half to .792 in the second half.

Even past his 2021 struggles, Means is the archetype of pitcher that the Cubs can live without. While he does throw harder than their cavalcade of soft tossers, he’s still a typical control pitcher. His walk rate is phenomenal, but the low strikeout rate combined with an xSLG and barrel rate among the bottom 25 percent as well as a pedestrian xBA don’t elevate him above other buy low candidates.

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Between the cost, the warning signs, and the seeming disinterest in the Orioles keeping him long-term, Means is a risky and expensive gamble for the Cubs. There are still a number of really solid, realistic options available to them that won’t cost any prospect capital. Unless you really buy into that first-half dominance, there are too many red flags to even consider Means as an option.