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.
Performance in 2017
The 2017 season was lefty Mike Minor’s first as a full-time relief pitcher, so in a lot of ways, his most recent performance is especially important. Fortunately for him, it was also really, really good:
As a former starter (albeit one coming off a major injury (more on that below)), Minor was able to throw a ton of innings out of the bullpen last season. In fact, his 77.2 IP ranked ninth most among all qualified relievers (and would’ve ranked 5th most in the NL).
And at the highest level, there’s almost nothing not to like from his 2017 season. He had the traditional stats (ERA, K%, BB%) of a top-flight reliever as well as the peripheral numbers (FIP, soft contact, hard contact) to support it. You could argue that his ground ball rate was a little low, but it was actually the best mark of his career and a only a couple clicks below average.
Similarly, while his BABIP, strand rate, and HR/FB ratio may look lucky, his contact management (BABIP, HR/FB ratio) and high strikeout rate (strand rate) paint the picture of a pitcher who earned it. Basically, his 2017 season was excellent.
Performance Before 2017
This is where things get a little tricky.
While this section is usually quite important in evaluating a player, Minor’s history makes things very difficult. For one, as I mentioned, 2017 was his first year as a full-time reliever, so all of his previous stats as a starter are – to some degree – irrelevant. And for another, he actually didn’t pitch in 2015 or 2016.
So, given that the last time he threw was as a starter and in 2014, I’m not going to really do much with his previous performance and instead lean upon his projections for 2018 and beyond.
Projection for 2018 and Beyond
Although he’s just 30 years old and posted a huge season out of the bullpen, the Steamer projections are not quite buying what Mike Minor is selling.
Don’t get me wrong, his projected 3.61 ERA and 3.64 is pretty good in this current run-scoring environment, but the overall drop in production combined with a 12.0 inning loss in IP takes a 2.1 WAR pitcher in 2017 and turns him into a 0.3 projected WAR pitcher in 2018.
The good news is that his strikeout rate and walk rate are still both projected to be quite strong next season, but the bad news is Steamer is guessing we’ll see another regression in his ground ball rate and strand rate, combined with an increase in his BABIP. All together, you can see how his projected numbers are taking a serious hit.
I still think he presents a really interesting arm, though, and I get the sense that Steamer isn’t able to really appreciate how healthy he may or may not be … now.
Possible Contract/Existing Rumors
At FanRag, Jon Heyman (3 years/$24M) and his expert (4 years/$32M) are expecting fairly significant interest in Minor, with three years deals projected from each. For a guy with 77.2 IP in the last three seasons, that’s quite a commitment (and a testament to the value of his youth, the quality of his 2017 season, and the increasing importance placed on high-quality bullpen arms).
At MLB Trade Rumors, Tim Dierkes is projecting a similar four-year deal worth $28 million, but believes Minor ultimately winds up with the Dodgers.
And finally at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron guesses that Minor winds up with a three year deal in the $9M AAV range, which is basically right in line with what the crowdsourced numbers reflect. He doesn’t have a guess on where Minor will end up, but the contract projections feel pretty certain, especially when paired with similar projections elsewhere.
It was Baseball Prospectus who first turned me on to the idea of Mike Minor being a legitimate target for the Cubs, as they guessed he could wind up on the North Side next season. This sentiment was later echoed by Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago, so I’d say this needs to be firmly on your radar.
In early March of 2015, Mike Minor began feeling tightness in his shoulder and was eventually diagnosed with rotator cuff inflammation. He started the season out on the disabled list and after a failed return, he eventually underwent surgery for a torn labrum, missing the rest of the 2015 and all of the 2016 season.
As you know, he moved into the bullpen for the 2017 season, saw his fastball jump 3 MPH in velocity (up to an average of 94.9 MPH in 2017), had a ton of success, and eventually declined his half of a $10M mutual option with the Royals.
Fit for Cubs
As for his fit with the Cubs, well, I think it’s pretty obvious. On the one hand, he checks many of the same boxes every back-end relief free agent checks. He may not have the lengthy track record of Wade Davis, Addison Reed, Greg Holland, or others, but he had as much (if not more) success last season than any of the above.
And with the exception of Reed, very few available (and quality) free agent relievers are as young as Minor. In that respect, giving him the multi-year deal he may require may not feel as scary.
On top of everything else, Minor is yet another example of a former starter turning into a reliever and immediately finding a ton of success – Andrew Miller and Wade Davis are two recent highly-notable examples. The Cubs front office has said on multiple occasions that they hope to find the next Andrew Miller, instead of trading for the current version (so to speak), and Minor, albeit with one quality season already in the books, could be that guy.
On top of everything, Minor is a left-handed reliever, which, alongside Justin Wilson, would give the Cubs two quality late-inning lefties to pair with their two quality late-inning righties (Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr.). That sort of balance is not absolutely necessary, but if the Cubs can’t come up with another Wade Davis/Aroldis Chapman tier closer for next season, four high-quality arms from both sides of the mound is a nice consolation.
So long as he’s healthy and his contract really does fall in the 3-4 year/$25-32M range, I think the Cubs should be full steam ahead on Minor.