It was clear since at least early December that the Cubs were going to lean heavily on rookies and reclamation projects to round out their staff. Then they traded Yu Darvish and failed to make Jon Lester a decent offer. That leaves them in need of a handful of starters to complement the incumbent trio of Kyle Hendricks, Alec Mills, and Adbert Alzolay, none of whom are being counted on to put up 200 innings even under the best circumstances.
As pitching coach Tommy Hottovy explained earlier this month, reduced workloads from the truncated 2020 season will carry over into ’21 as the Cubs and other teams work to get starters stretched back out. And that’s just the guys with MLB experience. The canceled minor league season prevented most pitching prospects, even those who participated at alternate sites, from getting any significant competitive innings.
That means loading up on quantity when it comes to starting depth, a practice that often sacrifices quality or reliability. A Cubs team unwilling to spend even a few million dollars is going to have to drop several lines in the water and hope they don’t end up having to throw back everything they catch.
One of those lines is being cast in the direction of former White Sox phenom Carlos Rodón, who was drafted one spot ahead of Kyle Schwarber in 2014 and suffered the same fate of being non-tendered in December. The difference for the big southpaw is that he’s battled injuries over the last six years and isn’t looking at the possibility of a $10 million guarantee this winter.
Rodón is an interesting case because he’s got a plus-plus slider when it’s working and his fastball sits mid-90’s when he’s healthy and cutting it loose. Those occasions have been few and far between, but serving as a spot-starting middle reliever could help both his health and performance. The Cubs are scouting his throwing session this week and might have an inside track on a buy-low deal because Rodón would get to stay in Chicago as he seeks to rebuild his value.
Another intriguing option is former Braves righty Mike Foltynewicz, who was unceremoniously DFA’d last July after a single disastrous start. His career numbers are pretty pedestrian outside of a 2018 season in which he was named an NL All-Star and finished eighth in Cy Young voting, but the potential is there. Even though his velocity was alarmingly depressed in 2020, somewhere around 5 mph on every pitch, you can’t really take much away from just 3.1 innings in the first start of the season.
His fastball traditionally sits north of 96 and his slider has been his best weapon by far, but his sinker, change, and curve have been erratic. Patrick Mooney reported in The Athletic that the Cubs have Foltynewicz “on their radar screen,” which probably means they’re waiting to see if his market remains low enough for them to get him on a minors deal. They might be willing to stretch to a minimal guarantee with some incentives, a deal that might work for the same reason listed above for Rodón.
Foltynewicz and his wife are from Minooka, just southwest of Joliet, and his in-laws are Cubs season ticket holders, or at least they were in 2019. I possess this entirely random bit of knowledge because I was sitting next to them at the game on May 22 in which Anthony Rizzo broke the “d” in the Budweiser sign atop the right field videoboard.
Now we come to Chris Archer, the prodigal son for whom many fans have been pining since he was dealt to the Rays as part of the return for Matt Garza. Mooney says the Cubs have been “doing background work” on the righty, who missed all of 2020 recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. Archer only threw 119.2 innings in 2019 and managed just 148.1 the year before, creating more uncertainty for his future than surgery alone.
Even if TOS is no longer a death knell for pitchers, full recovery typically takes well over a year and Archer’s performance hadn’t been great dating back to before the Rays traded him to Pittsburgh. In spite of that or because of it, the Cubs have long been viewed as a potential landing spot for Archer. It’d be a shock if they offered him anywhere near the $4 million MLB Trade Rumors predicted at the start of the offseason, but some sort of minors deal makes sense for both sides.
The difference between the three pitchers named here and what the Cubs did with Lester is really in the intent of a potential deal. While I continue to hold that the veteran lefty should have at least been shown a little more respect, the fact of the matter is that he’s not looking to land a bigger deal later and he’s got a better chance to win in Washington.
These buy-low guys need to reinvigorate their careers with a team that has innings to hand out, so winning is probably a secondary priority for them at this point. That’s really the one area in which the Cubs might actually have a significant competitive advantage at the low end of the market. They’ve expressed a need for up to eight starters and have lost a huge chunk of their innings from the last two seasons through a trade and free agency.
So even if they can’t offer much money, they offer as good a chance as any team of securing a starting spot or premier relief role during a season in which the market is more volatile than usual. In the case of the trio being discussed here, the added draw of homecoming in one form or another could play a significant factor as well.
Now the Cubs just hope they can land a fish that’ll end up turning into bait come July.