As we discussed yesterday in the context of trade talks with the Braves, all conversations about starting pitchers on whom the Cubs are checking in must be couched in some version of “but they’re checking in on almost every plausible option.” That doesn’t render the discussion entirely useless – it’s still enjoyable to deconstruct player performance, contract projections, and fit with the Cubs – but it does stop well short of “OMG the Cubs are pursuing this guy!” (That’s an entirely different conversation, reserved for situations where there are multiple reports of meetings and specific numbers starting to be discussed … like, for example, with this guy.)
These things are also still worth discussing because they serve as some confirmation that, yes, a particular player is of at least minimal interest to the Cubs. There are some players that I know the Cubs will not pursue, full stop.
Now that it’s been as caveated as all get out, I can mention that Ken Rosenthal has reported that the Cubs are among the six teams that have checked in on free agent right John Lackey, together with the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Red Sox, and Dodgers.
Given the front office’s familiarity with Lackey (as well as lefty front-man Jon Lester), you can understand why they’d at least check in. Although he’s now 37, Lackey has remained effective for the last several years, and, indeed, even reinvented himself throughout the course of the 2015 season to further improve on his effectiveness. As a pitching option who could come on a reasonable, shorter-term contract – even though he’d cost a draft pick – Lackey is interesting. For three straight post-Tommy John seasons, Lackey has posted FIPs and xFIPs in the 3.50 to 3.80 range (league average in those three years was in the 3.75 to 4.00 range), and been worth 2.4, 2.4, and 3.6 WAR. He’s pitched 189.1, 198.0, and 218.0 innings. His strikeout and walk rates have been virtually identical in those three years.
I can also see Lackey’s age and draft pick compensation status leaving him on the market for a while, and yielding a bargain opportunity late in the offseason.
Projections have Lackey getting a contract in the two to three year range at about $15 million per year, which seems about right for a guy with his outlook. With the Cubs in a competitive window, there’s no reason to blanche at acquiring older players, especially when they can be had on shorter-term deals. As Michael’s deep dive on Lackey revealed, he’s a guy who is a good bet to be very useful to a team like the Cubs, especially in the next year or two.
None of this is to argue that Lackey absolutely should be the guy, or even a guy, the Cubs pursue aggressively, but I can absolutely see the fit. Lackey seems to be about as good of a bet as any mid-tier free agent starter to give you about 200 innings of slightly-above-average performance in 2016 and 2017 (and maybe even 2018). There’s a whole lot of value in that to a team like the Cubs, and it’s not like signing Lackey would necessarily close other doors.