Could the Cubs bring in Johnny Cueto for added rotation depth?

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

At least on paper, this year’s Cubs starting rotation should be a noted improvement from what we saw last season. Chicago kicked off the winter by snagging Wade Miley, a steadying veteran presence who has re-invented himself late in his career, then made a huge splash right before the lockout, signing Marcus Stroman to a two-year deal with an option for a third.

Those two, along with Kyle Hendricks, will occupy the top three spots in the starting five – but from there, things get pretty murky. As things currently stand, it’s a battle between the likes of Justin Steele, Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay – but given the truncated ramp-up period that will precede the start of the regular season, having additional pitching depth will be a key for not just Chicago, but all 30 big league clubs.

Which brings me to someone Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors recently did a piece on – veteran right-hander Johnny Cueto, who is headed into free agency on the heels of a trio of declining years to close out his long-term deal with San Francisco.

He rebounded in 2021, to a degree, but a late-season elbow injury will certainly throw up some red flags for a guy who just turned 36 and has over 2,000 regular season innings on his arm. Throw in the fact he already underwent Tommy John surgery a few years’ back and it’s pretty clear to see that he comes with a fair share of question marks.

Enter Chicago, a team that’s all about short-term pacts they could potentially flip if things start off on the wrong foot. If the Cubs stumble out of the gate, anyone on a one or two-year deal is fair game on the trade market.

Chicago Cubs: It all comes down to what price he commands in free agency

Early in the offseason, I was all about the Cubs going hard on someone like Andrew Heaney. But then the Dodgers went out and handed the southpaw a one-year, $8.5 million deal – despite his coming off a pretty disastrous 2021 performance (0.3 WAR, 5.83 ERA, 4.85 FIP). At that dollar amount, I wanted no part of Heaney – and if Cueto comes at a comparable price tag, I’m not sure Jed Hoyer would be all that interested.

But if his market doesn’t materialize quickly coming out of the lockout, a team like the Cubs make all the sense in the world. He can slot in immediately to one of the final spots in the rotation, solidifying the staff and – if all else fails – serve as a trade chip if the wheels come off early in the year.

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It might not be Cueto specifically, but expect Chicago to be circling around anyone looking for those prove-it opportunities once the lockout ends, specifically in regards to pitching.