When we first learned that John Lackey might consider playing again in 2018, Brett wrote that, despite his first-half struggles, his second half production was sufficient enough to garner legitimate interest as a Major League fifth starter in 2018. By some team, at least.
One day later, I took a closer look at the actual logistics of bringing Lackey back and what he could add to this Cubs team, in particular. Although there were some genuinely encouraging signs (and some much less so), the whole thing was ultimately punctuated by a big we’ll see.
Well, perhaps that we’ll see, needs to be upgraded to a maybe, in light of Cubs GM Jed Hoyer’s recent comments to ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers:
Cubs GM Jed Hoyer confirmed that John Lackey plans to pitch in 2018 and didn't dismiss a return to the Cubs: "Its certainly something we're going to talk about." https://t.co/7m5sa5hWUv
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) November 14, 2017
Now, we weren’t there to hear how Hoyer made these comments or in what context they were made in the first place, but this front office is usually quite transparent and the general manager just said they’re going to talk about bringing Lackey back.
But before you lose your mind about a 39-year-old John Lackey potentially taking a spot in the Cubs’ rotation, consider what I wrote last time:
With a huge free agent class after this season, 2018 might serve as a transitional year for the Cubs (again: I mean that as even if the Cubs win the division).
With that in mind, could a (MUCH smaller) investment in a back-end arm like Lackey make some sense? Yeah, sure. If the Cubs aren’t finding what they like in free agency and don’t feel like parting with one of their top positional players is going to net them the right arm, they can save some powder and go hog wild next winter when the biggest free agent class in recent memory hits the market. I don’t necessarily expect them to do that, but it isn’t out of the question.
Or, alternatively, perhaps they can get Lackey to sign on without a guarantee that he’ll make the team/start for the Cubs in 2018. If he shows up to Spring Training and looks like second-half Lackey, they can keep his career going in Chicago. If not, well, there’s not a whole lot to lose. Lackey, of course, doesn’t strike me as a “I’ll hang out in the minors until you need me” type of guy, but a Minor League deal with a Major League split if he makes the team (and retires or tries somewhere else if he doesn’t) doesn’t seem too risky.
There’s nothing in Hoyer’s extremely brief comments that precludes the Cubs from going after Lackey in a much more fluid role than he’s used to in his career. After all, 39-year-old starters coming off partly-injured, partly-ineffective seasons with declining fastballs don’t get to demand a whole lot. And if the Cubs can get him on some sort of extremely cheap, or even minor-league split deal, I don’t think there’s any reason not to at least entertain the idea that he could have something to offer.
It’s not much to dream on, when Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Shohei Ohtani, and Alex Cobb exist on the free agent market, but it could be a smart, long-term move to help preserve the Cubs’ ability to burn money on free agents next winter.