Jed Hoyer and the Chicago Cubs had themselves quite a day on Thursday, making the signing of left-hander Shota Imanaga official, pulling off a trade for a top 50 MLB prospect with the Dodgers and wrapping up deals for 2024 with all six of their arbitration-eligible players.
Headlining the group was Justin Steele, who finished fifth in National League Cy Young voting after going 16-5 with a 3.06 ERA in 30 starts and a career-high 173 1/3 innings of work. He'll get a well-deserved raise from $740K in 2023 to an even $4 million in 2024.
Cubs avoid drama, reach deals with six key contributors from last year
Steele will slot back in atop the rotation this year, alongside Imanaga and familiar faces Jameson Taillon, Kyle Hendricks and probably either Jordan Wicks or Javier Assad, as things currently stand. After earning his first All-Star nod last year, he'll hope to add more hardware for both himself and his team this time around.
Adbert Alzolay, the presumptive Cubs closer in 2024, got a solid pay bump in the process, as well, going from just a tick under $750K to $2.11 million. After some ups and downs early in his big league career, the right-hander stepped into a late-inning role for Chicago last year, leading the team with 22 saves to go along with a 2.67 ERA in 58 appearances.
The only way Alzolay gets bumped from the ninth inning would be an external addition, whether it be Josh Hader, Emmanuel Clase or maybe someone like Jordan Hicks. There are going to be more bullpen additions before it's all said and done, we'll just have to see how the depth chart settles out once the season begins. But right now, it very much looks like his job to lose.
Veteran outfielder Mike Tauchman, who may have single-handedly turned the Cubs' season around with his game-ending, home run robbery of St. Louis' Alec Burleson at Busch Stadium this summer, will be back, as well, earning $1.95 million - up from $720K in 2023. He was a league average hitter, but had some stretches where he seemed to carry the offense, and he'll be valuable outfield depth for the team in 2024.
Infielder Nick Madrigal, who will also shift to more of a bench role this year, goes from $1.23 million to $1.81 million after surprising a lot of folks with his solid work at third in 2023. Mark Leiter Jr. goes from a guy designated for assignment last winter to a key bullpen contributor making $1.5 million in 2024 - a nice story for everyone involved. Now, hopefully Hoyer gives Craig Counsell some bullpen depth so Leiter's arm isn't about to fall off come September like it was last season.
Last, but not least, hard-throwing right-hander Julian Merryweather will make $1.175 million in 2024. The veteran made 69 appearances for the Cubs in 2023, working to a 3.52 FIP and averaging more than a dozen strikeouts per nine.