Even in Hot Market, Cubs Could Bolster Rotation Without Changing ‘Intelligent Spending’ Narrative

I’ve repeated this a couple times already, but Jed Hoyer may not simply be trying to lay the groundwork for a defense of the Cubs’ thrifty ways when he says they mean to spend intelligently this winter. So while it’s entirely possible he’s hedging his bets on that front out of habit, it would be very smart to get involved in the pitching market before December 1 comes and nearly everyone is snapped up.

The run on pitching doesn’t seem to have inflated the going rate for arms very much, if at all, making an aggressive approach all the more intelligent. Comparing what we’ve seen from deals signed so far to some of the more reputable free agency predictions shows us that pitchers outside the highest tiers are actually getting slightly less than expected.

That’s the market the Cubs figure to be perusing, with multiple reports saying they’re one of several teams in the hunt for Steven Matz. The former Met and Blue Jay is on par with Anthony DeSclafani (three years, $36 million) and Alex Wood (reportedly two yeras at $10+ million each), both of whom appear to have fallen just below figures from MLB Trade Rumors and Kiley McDaniel. Applying that to Matz would see him landing a deal for no more than $30 million over no longer than three years.

Things could obviously shift there if he does indeed have at least eight offers on the table, but that’s a very reasonable deal for a lefty who has pitched well in each of his four full seasons. With only Kyle Hendricks and Wade Miley locked into starting spots, adding Matz at something close to $10 million AAV would bolster the rotation while also addressing the need for higher velocity.

What’s more, it leaves plenty of room in the budget for another move and might also give Hoyer and Carter Hawkins the confidence to take a little more of a risk. Miley was a safe play and Matz would be more of the same, plus they’ve got Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele, and Keegan Thompson on the roster.

Maybe the Cubs would see fit to give former rival Michael Lorenzen the chance to convert back to a starting role. He’ll be 30 in January and doesn’t miss as many bats as you’d expect with that upper-90s velocity, but he’s already working with a five-pitch mix and he keeps the ball in the yard. Plus, he’s probably looking for a short-term prove-it deal and could be used in the bullpen if the rotation doesn’t work.

I’d put Kendall Graveman in that same category, but his work as a high-leverage reliever since the Cubs chose not to pick up his option makes him a little pricey as a tweener. Yusei Kikuchi remains near the top of my personal list because he throws gas and could be lights-out if his breaking stuff can be improved. At an estimate of just two years and $20 million or so, he’s hardly a risk at all.

Jon Gray should have been listed earlier among the comps for Matz, as he’s expected to earn a similar contract this offseason. Because he’s viewed to be at the top of that particular group, however, he might have to wait it out as teams look to save a few million bucks on the guys rated just below him. Even so, we’re talking maybe $12-13 million AAV over 3-4 years.

What I’m driving at is that the Cubs could easily add two very solid starters for around $60 million in total over three years, maybe much less. If they want to trust their young incumbent pitchers and their improving development infrastructure, they could go with one solid starter and one more risky project for as little as $40 million. And they could do it all before the Bears disappoint their fans on Thursday afternoon.

That’s what you call spending intelligently, now we just sit back and see if it happens.

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