Chicago Cubs could reunite with Caleb Smith for lefty relief help

Arizona Diamondbacks v Milwaukee Brewers
Arizona Diamondbacks v Milwaukee Brewers / Kayla Wolf/GettyImages

It seems like the Chicago Cubs will have to play the waiting game to land that much-needed lefty reliever. Reports indicate Andrew Chafin, Matt Moore, and other top southpaws left on the market are setting sky-high asking prices as they look for new homes. It has, understandably, brought things to a standstill as teams and relievers play a game of chicken ahead of Spring Training.

The Cubs have around a $13 million gap before they hit the CBT threshold. Signing one of the top remaining lefties for the potential two years, 16 million they could be looking for would leave them with little room to add at the deadline if they're competitive. There are, however, a few cheaper options on the table that would fill their need, albeit without the clear upside of a guy like Chafin. One such option is former Cub Caleb Smith.

Cubs fans may remember Smith from his very brief time with the team between 2016 and 2017 after he was acquired from the Brewers who themselves plucked him from the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft. The Cubs ultimately returned him to the Yankees before he could play a game for them and he'd eventually go on to have some success with the Marlins and Diamondbacks as a starter. Smith committed to the relief role last year in Arizona, however, and he showed a lot of promise. Across 69 innings in relief, he posted a respectable 3.65 ERA, though he only seemed to improve down the stretch. In the second half, he put up a 3.11 ERA with a 1.115 WHIP as he settled into the role.

Statcast gives some hope that he can maintain those results he saw down the stretch too. He's not going to blow anyone away with a fastball averaging around 92 miles per hour and his walk rate (12.9%) and chase rate (25%) are rough, but he still managed to keep opponents' batting average, exit velocity, and slugging in check. His whiff rate is also respectable at 28.8%. Moreover, his individual pitches show an opportunity to improve under the Cubs pitch lab. He started implementing his changeup a bit more last year and it easily proved to be his most effective pitch with a .245 opponent xwOBA and an xSLG of only .265. His fastball has some promise too. Despite poor results, it ranked in the 91st percentile of all fastballs in spin and boasted elite movement.

Caleb Smith shouldn't be the Cubs' first choice, but he's a good fallback

While I'd be totally on board with adding Smith as an extra lefty with Brandon Hughes, he's definitely not who the Cubs should be targeting first and foremost. Chief among the concerns surrounding him is that he's coming off a ligament tear in his elbow. He was able to avoid Tommy John, but it does leave lingering doubts over whether or not he'll maintain his form. Combined with his previous struggles as a starter, the injury was enough reason for the D-backs to cut him loose after the season. On the field, it's also hard to brush over that walk rate which landed in the 2nd percentile of all pitchers in baseball.

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The best approach is still for the Cubs to wait out the market and see if any of the more prominent lefty relievers drop their asking price so they can sign before Spring Training. Should that gap remain too far to bridge, however, Smith is a solid budget-conscious decision to round out the offseason and keep them under the CBT. He has the tools of an arm that could thrive with help from the pitch lab.