The Chicago Cubs figure to be fairly active in free agency this offseason, so it’s worth taking a look at some of the players who could be of interest to the team.
These players present possible fits for the Cubs, at a range of potential costs and talent levels.
Previously: Alex Cobb
Potential Target: Addison Reed
Performance in 2017
After a career year on the mound in 2016, 28-year-old righty reliever Addison Reed delivered another quality, albeit less spectacular, performance in 2017:
As you can see, Reed threw a ton of innings for a reliever this season, after throwing a ton of innings in 2016 (we’ll get to the meaning of that in a bit). Fortunately, the heavy usage didn’t seem to stop him from succeeding, as he once again posted a sub-3.00 ERA with an excellent K/BB ratio (anybody here like strike throwers?). But despite all the strikeouts, there are some obvious knocks against him.
His batted ball profile, for example, is not something you want to see from a late-inning reliever. In short, he’s allowing too much hard contact and too many fly balls in an era where the ball is leaving the park more than ever. And for a pitcher who’d likely be trusted in the most important moments of games, a penchant for homers is not something you seek out.
I have many more thoughts on that last point, but stick with me for now.
Performance Before 2017
Reed originally “broke out” with the White Sox back in 2013, when he posted a 3.79 ERA and 3.17 FIP over 71.1 IP. However, he followed that year up with a bit of a clunker in Arizona (-0.1 fWAR, 4.25 ERA), before bouncing back in a big way these last three seasons.
From 2015-2017, Reed’s 4.5 fWAR ranked 11th best among all MLB relievers, while his 2.66 ERA (20th) and 2.87 FIP (19th) were each among the top 20. There’s no doubt that his heavy strikeout rate and lack of free passes has turned Reed into something of an elite reliever in recent years, but I do have some fairly serious concerns going forward.
Projection for 2018 and Beyond
In the two years before (2013, 2014) and after (2015, 2016) his negative-WAR 2014 campaign, Reed posted (roughly) a 6.6% HR/FB ratio – which is elite. However, in 2014, that number spiked to 13.9% and, thus, Reed’s 11 home runs allowed were tied for third most in the Majors.
But, to be fair, that spike seemed to be an outlier, especially because 1) we know that was still before the Juiced Ball Era, and 2) Reed hadn’t had issues in that area before or after. But herein lies the problem with a pitcher like Reed.
Although that spike was very likely a fluke, it hurt him disproportionately, because he allows so many fly balls (his 42.2% fly ball rate is 19th highest among all relievers with at least 250 innings since he entered the league in 2012 (league average is around 34.5%)).
Consider the impact this can have on a guy like Reed. In 2017, Reed’s 12.5% HR/FB ratio ranked 60th in all of baseball (fine), and yet he gave up the 8th most homers (11) among all qualified relievers (not fine). That’s because of the fly ball rate.
So, basically, as soon as an unlucky streak hits (or a little more hard contact comes), it hurts Reed, who gives up a ton of fly balls, more than most. And given how home run friendly Wrigley Field can be during the summer months, plus the homer-friendly era in which we now live, plus the particularly harmful effect homers can have during high-leverage moments … this is something the Cubs will have to seriously consider before going hard after Reed.
Don’t get me wrong, when he keeps the ball in the park, Reed can be nearly as good as any reliever in baseball, but that’s an extremely notable dependancy.
Possible Contract/Existing Rumors
Despite all of that hemming and hawing, I’d like to restate that Reed is, indeed, still a very attractive free agent reliever and has already been connected to the Cubs once this offseason.
At MLB Trade Rumors, Tim Dierkes calls Reed the 16th best available free agent (3rd best reliever) and guesses that he winds up with the Cubs for four years and $36 million. That price, as we’ve discussed, is on the high end for non-proven-closer types, but Reed arguably deserves to be included in that tier. A four-year deal seems likely, and probably in that $30 to $36 million range.
I can imagine a world in which the Cubs attract Reed to Chicago by promising him the closer job full-time right out of the gate – an opportunity he might not get elsewhere.
Although Reed, 28, has been mostly healthy and is still pretty young, he has thrown a heck of a lot of innings in his career. From 2013-2017, Reed’s 340.1 IP rank fifth most among all relievers, while his 153.2 IP in the last two years takes the same spot in the rankings.
Is that just durability or a red flag for the future?
Fit for Cubs
The 2018 Chicago Cubs have a clear need in the bullpen.
Already, they stand to lose Brian Duensing, Wade Davis, and Koji Uehara to free agency. And they’re probably not quite sure what they have in Justin Wilson or Hector Rondon – both of whom are free agents after 2018 anyway. Meanwhile, Carl Edwards Jr. has had his struggles at times, and Mike Montgomery could see significant time in the rotation next year (and beyond).
For those reasons, alone, you can say adding a younger relief arm like Reed for multiple years makes plenty of sense. But when you also consider the fact that the Cubs are a good bet to head back to the postseason in 2018, a back-end type like Reed becomes even more essential.
On top of everything, Reed’s young, fits in with the core from a timing perspective, and is a strike thrower – all of which are qualities this front office has explicitly mentioned in recent months/years.
So, yeah, Reed feels like a quality fit for this Cubs team, barring a ridiculous surge in his market – just don’t forget about those potential homers, because they could be a problem down the line.