I follow baseball reasonably closely. I follow transaction season reasonably closely. I’d say I’m just doing my job, but the truth is I love and obsess about these things in any case.
That is to say, a significant name in the rumor mill is rarely a surprise to me, let alone a total blindspot.
But so it is with Miles Mikolas.
I had absolutely no recollection of Mikolas when I started seeing his name in various offseason transaction prediction pieces, and I knew absolutely nothing about Mikolas when I saw him twice connected to the Cubs in speculation in local articles (NBCS, ESPN). A name like that, in a context like that, tends not to pop up out of nowhere. That means: we should be paying attention to Miles Mikolas.
Mikolas, who is 29 and apparently bears the nickname “The Lizard King,” is a right-handed starting pitcher who has pitched the last three years in Japan’s highest league with excellent results. In 2017, Mikolas made 27 starts and posted a 2.25 ERA over 188.0 innings, while striking out 187 and walking just 23. The NPB is not MLB, but it’s certainly competitive enough that Mikolas’s performance stands out – his 8.13 K/BB ratio was tops in the Central League, and just one starter had a better ERA.
So how did a guy as effective as Mikolas wind up in the NPB for three prime years in his 20s? Well, it looks like he was one of those up-and-down AAA types for a few years before deciding – as many do – to cash in on a contract in Japan while he had a chance. It probably helped obscure things that he came up in the Padres’ system strictly as a reliever, and it was only just before he left for Japan that the Rangers began working him as a starter.
Interestingly, Mikolas’s stateside formative years took place in the Padres’ farm system when guys like Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, and Jaron Madison were running the show, so they probably have a great deal of familiarity with him – and perhaps that’s a part of the nexus that has him connected to the Cubs this offseason.
Mikolas will be able to get a big league contract, though the total investment might not be significant. Jon Heyman and his expert predicted a two-year deal for Mikolas, worth $7 to $8 million.
If the Cubs lock down a sure-fire fourth starter early in free agency (like Alex Cobb?), perhaps they will be more comfortable aggressively pitching a guy like Mikolas that he could come in and have a great chance to win the 5th starter job.
That said, while I love the idea of targeting a guy like Mikolas and seeing what’s he’s got, you do hope the Cubs would enter into 2018 with more certain depth at the back of the rotation than Mikolas, Mike Montgomery (who will spend ample time in the bullpen), Eddie Butler, Jen-Ho Tseng, and Alec Mills.