The signing of Tyler Chatwood came out of nowhere. With the off-season at a relative standstill, ace caliber options in Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta having little reported traction to-date, and rumors the Cubs were homing in on obvious fit Alex Cobb, it’s safe to say this was very much a surprise move.
Given his track record away from Coors Field, a three-year deal at $38 million is a solid move – even if projections point to this as an overpay. It also proves the front office is taking a painstakingly nuanced approach this off-season. Let’s examine this move in-depth.
The splits last season for Chatwood are comical, even given the notoriety of Coors Field. While he finished with an overall 8-15 record, 4.32 ERA, and an ugly BB/9 of 4.69, his road ERA was a nifty 3.49 to contrast the ugly 6.01 ERA at home. This doesn’t appear to be an anomaly, either, as he posted a 1.69 road ERA in 2016 to a 6.12 ERA in Denver. The biggest concern I see here is that his lack of control didn’t stay in Colorado, as he continued to walk batters at an unsightly clip (4.66 BB/9) on the road last year. Still, the road splits are generally an encouraging sign, and hopefully a more forgiving home field and a new pitching coach can provide more of an impetus to throw strikes early in the count.
Chatwood also boasted an average fastball velocity north of 94 MPH last year, coupled with a ground ball rate of 58 percent that’s well above last year’s league average of 44 percent – a number that’ll certainly play well in Wrigley with the terrific infield the Cubs employ. Another encouraging sign is that he limits hard contact better than the league average, which has remained consistent throughout his career. A notable caveat is that Tyler does have an injury history, having undergone Tommy John surgery in 2014 that caused him to miss the entire 2015 season. He has, however, averaged over 150 innings in the two seasons since, rendering health concerns moot.
Signing Chatwood means the Cubs now have four starters locked up thru the 2020 campaign. Jon Lester and Jose Quintana are both under contract for three more seasons, and 2020 will be Kyle Hendricks‘ final year of arbitration (should he not be locked up sooner). To secure a back-of-rotation arm (with greater potential) for that same time period is fantastic, and leaves the Cubs needing just one more arm for the rotation. With the uncertainty of Shohei Ohtani and several suitors involved with other second-tier starters, the Cubs made a prudent investment in Chatwood.
This also may signify the Cubs are no longer in on Alex Cobb. While he seemed too obvious a fit given his relationship to Joe Maddon and John Hickey, he has been linked to several other teams, likely creating a bidding war. Perhaps the Cubs realized they could invest in Chatwood, gambling that his performance on the road as a member of the Rockies will extrapolate over the next three years as his overall numbers. And if Cobb indeed finds a five or six year offer with an inflated annual value? The signing of Chatwood will be all-the-more impressive.
It remains that the Cubs overpaid what the market was perceived to be, but it’s become clear that starting pitchers are going to be quite expensive as the off-season wears on. Certainly, pitching is at a premium, and the Cubs managed to respond to that reality accordingly, swooping in to sign a younger arm to a palatable contract before the market is truly set. With fellow free agent Miles Mikolas also netting a contract value above projections, it stands to reason that Arrieta and Darvish are going to command huge commitments – something the Cubs clearly want to avoid.
With a decision from Ohtani expected in the coming days, and the Winter Meetings set to begin next week, the Cubs managed to cross off a major item from their off-season laundry list. I’m preemptively going to call this signing a win for the Cubs. Welcome aboard, Tyler.