We’ve said it over and over, but it merits saying again: Trevor Cahill was a revelation for the Cubs down the stretch. After struggling mightily as a starter with the Diamondbacks and Braves and Dodgers, in both the big leagues and in stretches in the minor leagues, Cahill came to the Chicago Cubs on a minor league deal back in August. He quickly established himself in the bullpen at Iowa, and came up to the Cubs in September.
Then, all he did was post a 2.12/3.13/2.21 ERA/FIP/xFIP line over 17.0 innings and emerge as one of the Cubs’ most trusted relievers in the playoffs.
For that reason, Cahill, at just 27 years old, is going to have plenty of suitors in free agency, even after his previous struggles. The big question, though, is whether he’ll find suitors that want to pay him guaranteed money to start next year, or if he’ll have to embrace his newfound bullpen success.
Nick Cafardo included a bit in his latest on that very question, speaking with Cahill’s agent John Boggs, who confirmed that Cahill’s preference is to find a starting job for 2016. That said, if he can’t land a starting job, Cahill is open to working out of the bullpen.
So, then, I think the question becomes: is there a team out there willing to pay decent guaranteed money – one year and $3 to $5 million? – to give Cahill an honest-to-God shot of winning a rotation spot, and then using him out of the bullpen if that doesn’t work out? It’s a very crowded market, but there are so many rebuilding teams that my gut says there’s a team out there that will try to parlay him as a flippable piece, and will be able to offer him a shot at starting in the first half.
Could they offer him a chance to win a spot in the rotation depending on how the health of the rest of the rotation shakes out? Absolutely. Would Cahill be a great 6th/7th starter type to have in the fold? Definitely. But my gut tells me his highest and best value to a team like the Cubs would be out of the bullpen right out of the gate. The velocity spiked, the stuff played up, and the ability to pair his sinker with a nasty changeup and knuckle curve made him incredibly effective in limited viewings. All that, and he comes with the ability to go multiple innings? Sign me up. As a reliever, Cahill strikes me as a very good bet for success next year. As a starter, I’m not so sure that ship hasn’t sailed.
We’ll see how the offseason plays out for the Cubs and for Cahill. If he finds a rebuilding team offering him a job in the rotation, I could hardly blame him for taking it – the upside for him, especially when he’ll be just 28, is that he can re-establish himself as a capable mid-rotation starter, and then he can probably score much bigger in free agency than if he emerges as a very good reliever. (I’d argue that the kind of multi-inning reliever he could be, if used in the middle innings to shorter the starts of other pitchers, would actually be at least as valuable as a run-of-the-mill middle-of-the-rotation starter, but I don’t think baseball is there yet.)