Cubs Listed as Good Fit for Several Top Free Free-Agent Starters

When it comes to adding through free agency, there’s more to it than just paying a good player a ton of money. And while there may be cases in which it really is that simple, though most teams would want to do a little due diligence on how that player would fit in the clubhouse and the city in question. But there’s also the matter of how he’ll fit in his new ballpark.

For instance, the Red Sox should be wary of JD Martinez because playing at Fenway wouldn’t fully leverage his righty power stroke. Okay, not the best example, though you no doubt understand how different players’ skills might be better suited to some ballparks than they are others. Take Cole Hamels in Wrigley instead of Globe Life.

Picking up Hamels’ $20 million option sets the Cubs up pretty well as far as the rotation is concerned, and that whole financial pinch going on means big-money starters may be off the table this winter. But that doesn’t mean some of those free agents aren’t good fits at Wrigley, as determined by The Athletic‘s Owen Poindexter (subscription). Okay, cool, but why are we bothering with this?

Good question. Mainly because there’s nothing else going on right now. There is, however, the possibility that one or more of these pitchers will lock in a very short deal with a team that falls out of contention. And perhaps the Cubs run into some injury problems and find themselves once more in need of rotation help at the deadline. Or maybe you just want to know which potential opponents to fear.

With that in mind, let’s see who Poindexter pegged.

Dallas Keuchel

At a projected $82 million over four years, the 30-year-old southpaw won’t be pitching in Chicago as anything other than a visitor. His repertoire isn’t scary, but he can get a lot of grounders and his stuff plays in a ballpark that can clean up some of his mistakes.

His 17.5 percent strikeout rate is among the lowest in this free-agent class, but he’s shown he can consistently induce grounders — his 53.7 percent groundball rate was tops among all qualified pitchers in 2018. While he ran an HR/FB rate just a tick below league average in 2018, he, like many groundball pitchers, has tended to get knocked around on balls in the air.

The Dodgers, Braves and Cubs have roughly neutral parks in regard to home runs and plenty of good defenders. The Rockies have an excellent infield defense and could take a bet on Keuchel’s workable HR/FB rate of 2018, given the rest of the profile fits.

JA Happ

Less than a month removed from his 36th birthday, Happ revived his career with the Blue Jays and earned himself a trade to the Yankees. The Cubs were scouting him quite a bit as well, if you recall. He may have earned a nice payday to carry him through the end of his career, especially if he’s able to maintain an upward trend in fastball velocity.

So, put that all together and we’re left with a pitcher who is quite effective the first two times through the order with a weakness on balls in the air. We’re looking for a team with a homer-suppressing park, good outfield defense and ideally some pitching depth to keep Happ to 18 batters.

If this match [with the Rays] doesn’t happen, the four teams with lower SLGs on hits over 90 mph all make some amount of sense: the Cubs, A’s, Cardinals and Diamondbacks all hope to contend and could use some pitching depth. The Cubs, Angels, Brewers and Dodgers were the other top teams at turning fly balls into outs. You could make a list from any of those teams, but let’s elevate the Cubs (outfield defense), Brewers (roster fit) and Angels (need for solid, affordable additions).

Trevor Cahill

Hey, a former Cub! Bring him back! Cahill has had an up-and-down career, whether it’s his health, his performance, or his role on the staff. That could lead to a very reasonable contract in both length and money, so he could actually be an option for a swingman role. Then again, the Cubs aren’t going to want to pump $10-12 million AAV into a guy who has so many question marks.

BABIP weights groundballs a little more than we want, however, because more hits happen on the ground but more damage happens in the air. We can counterweight this by looking at which teams outperformed their FIPs the most. The Cubs are the clear winners, followed by the A’s, Brewers, Braves and then both L.A. teams. The Dodgers have a team and park that absorb balls in play, and a front office that doesn’t mind 100-inning seasons — as long as they are good innings.

Gio Gonzalez

Gonzalez would be a great fit…if he worked out of the bullpen for much less money than he’s likely to command. Once a big-time A’s prospect, the 33-year-old lefty is still capable of occasional excellent performances. He can still miss bats, but he also misses the zone an awful lot and is probably best served as another team’s back-end starter.

Gio isn’t that good. In 2018, he walked more than four batters per nine innings, and his strikeouts per nine dipped below eight for the first time since 2010. He also seems to be losing his homer-suppressing abilities and is now roughly average there. He could be rotation filler for a team with good defense, but the better bet might be to try him in the bullpen to see whether he gets an uptick in velocity.

Top pitchers for whom the Cubs were not listed as a fit: Patrick Corbin, Charlie Morton, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Aníbal Sánchez, Nathan Eovaldi, Lance Lynn, Derek Holland, Wade Miley.

Take this all for what it’s worth, which may be nothing. I do think there’s merit in reviewing these things, even if they offer little direct insight into what the Cubs are going to do. At the very least, it may shine a light on the types of pitchers they’ll pursue either in free agency or the trade market. And, again, it could tell you would to be really worried about the Cardinals or Brewers acquiring.

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