Every team was doing it and Wednesday the Chicago Cubs finally got in on the action. With the World Series ending in a Boston Red Sox victory in five games, the baseball off-season is, and has been for the last handful of days, upon us.
Heading into this off-season, the Cubs are surrounded by many questions, the majority of which center around an offense that went stone-cold during the second half of play. With that being said, only two of the Cubs’ six total pending free agents came from the offensive side of the ball, a product of employing young, cost-controlled players. Those two players to hit the market, Daniel Murphy and Bobby Wilson, were pick-ups mid-season with Wilson appearing in exactly zero games for the Cubs in 2018.
Murphy, on the other hand, provided much more value, slashing .297/.329/.471 with six home runs and 13 RBI across 35 games. Despite Murphy’s spark atop the lineup, the Cubs struggled post-All-Star break, dropping the two most important games of the season (Game 163 against the Milwaukee Brewers and the wild-card game against the Colorado Rockies), all while scoring just one run in each contest.
While there remains little doubt Theo Epstein and the front office will address the offensive problem this winter, no such change has come yet. Perhaps that’s due to free agency not officially opening until the weekend, but at this point, Bryce Harper to the Cubs seems like a foregone conclusion (hot take alert).
Just because the big splashy moves have not happened yet doesn’t mean we are void of roster shuffling. This week in the off-season is all about teams and players picking up or declining options, both of which the Cubs had on Wednesday afternoon.
Jose Quintana Returns to the Cubs in 2019
With a move that shocked no-one, the Cubs picked up the first of two team options the Chicago White Sox built into Quintana’s contract back in 2014. Those options, which run $10.5 million each, will take the southpaw through his age 31 season and should, barring any unforeseen hurdles, give the Cubs a max of three and half years of control on the veteran.
Those years of control will come in handy because Quintana has been the same picture of consistency with the Cubs that he was on the South Side. From 2012-2016, the left-hander posted a 3.41 ERA, an ERA-plus of 118 and a solid BB/9 rate of 2.3. It was those numbers and a World Series hang over that prompted the Cubs to ship two of their best prospects across town for Quintana’s services during the summer of 2017.
Last season, Quintana lived up to the billing, logging a 3.74 ERA across 14 starts totaling 84.1 innings. Additionally, the southpaw amassed the same ERA-plus of 118 as in his past seasons, while at the same time upping his strikeout total to a career-best 10.5 K/9.
Point being, Quintana has been exactly what the Cubs hoped he would be, even if regression showed up at his door in 2018. Despite his ERA being the second highest of his career over a full season, the left-hander was still an above average pitcher, posting an ERA-plus of 106. With that being said, Quintana’s peripherals jumped back to his career norms, with his 3.5 BB/9 matching the same mark he posted prior to his trade in 2017. In addition, Quintana’s K/9 receded to 8.2 in 2018, mirroring his 7.8 career mark.
With Quintana officially in the fold for another season, the Cubs’ rotation is shaping up to be a good one. Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish and now Quintana are all under contract with Cole Hamels expected to return, either on a one-year, $20 million option, or a multi-year pact.
Brandon Kintzler Exercises Player Option for 2019
In their efforts to further fortify an already strong point of this team, the bullpen, there was one name the Cubs no doubt cringe at the thoughts of returning. That name is Brandon Kintzler, and when the Cubs traded for him the middle of last season, it seemed like a smart move.
One, he was cheap, as the Washington Nationals dumped him for next to nothing. Two, the right-hander was barely one year removed from posting a 3.03 ERA between the Minnesota Twins and Nationals, earning his first All-Star Game bid.
Even during the first half of 2018, Kintzler was a serviceable relief pitcher, logging a 3.59 ERA across 45 appearances for Washington. Following his trade to the North Side, however, Kintzler transformed into a different pitcher, one unable to record an out, in any situation. What resulted was a 7.00 ERA in his 25 games and 18 inning with the Cubs. After allowing just two home runs in 42.2 innings with the Nationals, Kintzler gave up three in his time with the Cubs, while at the same time recording a BB/9 rate of 4.5 and a sub-par ERA-plus of 62 (38 percent worse than league average).
This lackluster effort was not lost in the minds of Cubs brass, who declined Kintzler’s $10 million team option, a clause that then reverted to a $5 million player option. While it remains unclear if the Cubs would have picked up the $10 million option with the cheaper deal on the table even if the right-hander had a good season, it’s clear the club isn’t looking forward to Kintzler returning. That is, of course, if he continues to pitch like he did in 2018 with Chicago.
Cubs Add Jerry Vasto from Kansas City
As Cubs fans have learned over the last few years, Theo Epstein likes to make under-the-radar, depth-adding moves. The claiming of Jerry Vasto off waivers from the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday was no different. Vasto, a 26-year-old left-hander, was chosen in the 24th of the 2014 MLB draft by the Rockies.
Since then, Vasto has appeared in six major league games, all of which came in 2018 between the Royals and Rockies. Across 4.1 total innings, the southpaw posted an 8.31 ERA, racking up negative-0.2 WAR with a WHIP of 1.846.
While the majors didn’t pan out well for Vasto in 2018, the youngster found success in Triple-A. In 38 total appearances, the left-hander logged a 3.08 ERA, a 10.7 K/9 and lofty 4.3 BB/9. Additionally, Vasto allowed just three home runs in 38 innings, while at the same time racking up three saves.
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