In the midst of one of the most quiet offseasons in Major League Baseball history the Chicago Cubs were able to string together a few moves that prepared them for several things in the 2018 season and beyond. Whether you want to point the finger at players, agents, or owners, only a handful of impact free agents have inked new deals thus far. While the Cubs only made a couple of transactions between the end of the World Series and the beginning of Spring Training, the moves they did make were downright smart, bordering on genius.
Let Them Walk
The Cubs acquired closer Wade Davis in December of 2016 in a straight-up swap for hard-swinging outfielder Jorge Soler. Davis converted 32 out of 33 saves for the Cubs in the 2017 seasons, posting a 2.30 ERA in the regular season. He struggled in both the NLDS and the NLCS in five appearances combined and the Cubs decided not to bring him back for the 2018 season. On December 29 Davis made bank with the Colorado Rockies, putting his name on a $52 million deal to put the final nail in games for the Rox for the next three years. The Rockies have slowly been putting together one of the best bullpens in the game and adding Davis could be the piece they needed to contend in a difficult National League West division. Meanwhile, the Cubs received a compensatory draft pick for Davis signing with Colorado. This will give them a draft pick in the Competitive Balance Round which occurs after the second round of the draft.
Jake Arrieta is yet to sign with a team so far this offseason, though recent reports say he’s been having talks with the Philadelphia Phillies – a team that could surprise people really soon. When Arrieta does finally make his choice and sign with a team the Cubs will receive another pick in the Competitive Balance Round. That’s two prime selections for letting elite talent pursue opportunities elsewhere.
Bullpen on a Budget
The three-year, $52 million deal that Davis signed with the Rockies set the bar pretty high in terms of what relievers would be expecting this offseason. Despite that fact, the Cubs were still able to add three relievers for less than what Davis will be making. First up is veteran pitcher Brandon Morrow. Morrow has no experience closing ballgames but Theo Epstein has already come out and said that Morrow will indeed be the closer for the Cubs in 2018. Morrow signed a two-year, $21 million deal with the Cubs with a team option for a third year in 2020. The right-hander has big shoes to fill, following in the footsteps of Aroldis Chapman and Wade Davis as the newest closer of the Cubs.
Second is left-handed reliever Brian Duensing. Duensing spent a couple years starting games for the Minnesota Twins earlier in this decade before making the move to a full-time bullpen arm. In his first season with the Cubs in 2017 he pitched very well out of the bullpen. Duensing logged a 2.74 ERA in 68 appearances. He was also one of the few Cubs relievers to pitch well in the postseason, a trait that is kind of important if you want to stay with a ballclub that is looking to win a World Series. This time Duensing signed a two-year deal worth $7 million.
The third piece they’ve added to the bullpen so far is journeyman right-hander Steve Cishek. I use the term “journeyman” loosely as he’s only really bounced back and forth between both Florida teams and the Seattle Mariners in the last eight years, with a stop in St. Louis in 2015. That said, the side-armed veteran has a career 2.74 ERA in 421.2 innings, and even has 121 saves under his belt should Morrow start to struggle.
This kind of re-tooling has been Theo Epstein’s specialty in his time with the Cubs. Wade Davis was the lone All-Star selection for the Cubs in 2017 but he was simply asking for too much in his contract with the Cubs. The Rockies were willing to give him what he was looking for and the Cubs filled that void with other talent.
Cut One Off, Two More Will Grow
As Jake Arrieta embarked on his hunt for a mega-contract the Cubs worked on adding other starting pitchers. The first arm they grabbed was 28-year-old Tyler Chatwood. This deal was kind of surprising as the Cubs gave Chatwood a three-year contract worth $38 million despite his career 4.31 ERA and two Tommy John surgeries (among other injuries). Because of his injury history he has only pitched over 150 innings once in his six-year career, and he just barely eclipsed that marker with 158 innings in 2016. Looking into his splits also shows that he has really struggled against the NL Central in his career. Chatwood will end up being either an amazing signing or a complete bust, and I think the Cubs would be happy with him landing somewhere in the middle.
The big splash was the Yu Darvish signing – six years, $126 million. Just as Davis’ contract set the bar for elite relievers, this Darvish signing will be the leverage for the remaining starting pitchers on the market. While I, personally, was in the camp of wanting to see the Cubs bring back Arrieta, one of the first things Darvish said upon signing with the Cubs was “My main goal is to beat the Dodgers.” To Dave Roberts. The manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Darvish’s former team. That’s kinda badass.
With these moves the Cubs are clearly trying to remain the best team in the National League (on paper) while also staying prepared for the future. Short-term deals for relievers, a long-term deal for an A-list starting pitcher, draft picks for letting guys go, the Cubs are doing it right and people should be impressed. As Spring Training continues we should be able to get a better idea of how guys like Chatwood and Morrow will fare in their roles with this team, but for the time being Cubs fans should be more than optimistic for the 2018 season.