Let’s go ahead and make very clear from the start that trading for a 33-year-old pitcher with one year left on a deal worth $10 million AAV is probably not at the top of Jed Hoyer’s list of priorities. At the same time, the Cubs need to replace at least one starter and Theo Epstein said prior to announcing his departure that they’d be looking outside the organization for rotation depth. So when MLB.com’s Mike Petriello mentioned the Cubs as a potential fit with the Rangers on a trade for Lance Lynn, I felt it was worth a little attention.
Though such a move seems to be at odds with their noted desire to curb payroll costs, the Cubs have more than enough money falling off the books to afford Lynn’s contract. They’ve also got a very good working relationship with the Rangers and have partnered on several pitching trades over the past few years. That includes deals for Cole Hamels and Drew Smyly more recently, with Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza moves helping to stock the farm in prior years.
The Cubs obviously don’t have much they can afford to part with in terms of impact talent in the minors, but they do have a fair bit of redundant depth at the lower levels. That might be attractive to the Rangers, who MLB.com beat writer T.R. Sullivan wrote “are going to need three years to be contenders again. At least.” Lynn isn’t going to fetch a big haul, so maybe the Cubs could actually pull something off without significantly depleting a resource that needs to be built back up.
It’s easy to miss because he was pretty meh in 2018 and has been toiling in obscurity for the past two seasons, but Lynn has been really good for the Rangers. Like, really good. He leads MLB with 292.1 innings and 46 starts since the beginning of 2019 and his 8.3 fWAR ranks fifth. The pitchers ahead of him in that latter category: Jacob deGrom (9.6), Gerrit Cole (8.9), Shane Bieber (8.8), and Max Scherzer (8.4).
Lynn also threw his fastball more than anyone else during that time, using it for a whopping 70.4% of his total pitches. That figure includes the two-seam, which he actually dialed back, but the moral of the story is that he’s very good with a pitch that is very repeatable. He’s also improved his cutter and is tunneling his pitches more effectively, all of which indicates continued success in the future.
As for other little factors that could increase the Cubs’ interest in Lynn and vice-versa, his actual salary of $9.33 million is slightly less than his AAV. The competitive balance tax threshold will be a factor for Jed Hoyer this winter, but likely not as much as actual payroll, so saving an extra three-quarters of a million might mean picking up another league-minimum guy. There’s also the Midwest connection for a guy who grew up in Brownsburg, IN and whose wife is from Southern Illinois.
Those same factors could also make Lynn a great fit on the South Side, where he would be reunited with former Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa. Other destinations mentioned by Petriello include the Padres, Angels, Blue Jays, Braves, and Yankees. The first two of those might be more amenable to Lynn because his contract contains a $100,000 assignment bonus if he’s traded to a West Coast team.
As unlikely as this move seems for the Cubs on the surface, they could find ways to make it work without putting too much stress on the budget. And if Hoyer actually wants to remain competitive while also reshaping the roster with an eye to the future, Lynn provides an inning-eating stud whose limited obligations don’t dictate anything that happens down the road. There’s also the possibility that he could be flipped at the deadline if things aren’t looking great.
The real key to the Cubs’ offseason strategy has to be versatility, since merely cutting costs for savings’ sake could paint them into a corner. They won’t have much to spend, so they need to spend smart. Now we just have to sit back and see how that actually plays out under a new…ish president of baseball operations.