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
In 2017, at the age of 33, Brandon Morrow had a breakout season for the Los Angeles Dodgers and was one of the best relief pitchers in all of baseball.
Morrow was one of the earliest Cubs rumors of the offseason, and was recently reconnected to the team yesterday. Here’s what I had to say about his performance at the time:
The most interesting thing about Morrow is that, unlike most relievers, he doesn’t just do one thing really well while lacking in other departments. He is decidedly *good* at pretty much everything.
Take a look (league averages in parenthesis):
Strikeout rate: 29.4% (23.3%)
Walk rate: 5.3 % (9.2%)
Average: .194 (.242)
Ground ball rate: 45.0% (44.3%)
Fly ball rate: 31.2% (35.9%)
Soft-hit rate: 20.0% (19.5%)
Hard-hit rate: 30.9% (31.0%)
Sure, he’s better in some areas than others, but that’s a really well-balanced pitcher right there.
Performance Before 2017
The rub, of course, is that he wasn’t always this good (well, that, and the fact that he’s been injured A LOT, but we’ll get to that part later).
For example, in 2017, he posted an excellent 29.4% strikeout rate, but before this season, his career rate shrinks all the way down to 23.7%. And that slightly above average 45.0% ground ball from last season? Yeah, it was 38.9% before 2017.
And perhaps worst of all, his 5.3% walk rate from last season was just about half his career mark (10.2 BB%) before 2017. He did still manage to limit hard contact and induce plenty of weak contact throughout his career, but, yeah, an investment in Morrow is an investment in his 2017 numbers pretty much exclusively.
It’s also worth pointing out that Morrow had been trying to make it as a starter as recently as 2015, but we’ll get to that later on, too.
Projection for 2018 and Beyond
And, again, I don’t want to undersell it: Morrow wasn’t just really good last season, he was really good in every single statistical category across the board. That’s the sort of breakout you can believe in.
Though, to be fair, Steamer isn’t exactly buying it. Here’s what Morrow’s early projections look like so far: 3.77 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 24.0 K%, 7.6 BB%. Those are far from terrible numbers – in fact, that’s a pretty useful reliever right there – but they’re a good ways away from the dominant back-end arm he was in 2017.
On the bright side, those projections are leaning heavily on a pretty significant regression in his BABIP and home runs allowed, while expecting him to strand fewer runners, so really, with a little luck, the projections are still pretty solid.
Oh, of course, and the best part of all is that they’re projecting him to put up those numbers over 65.0 IP – which would be his biggest single season inning total since he was a starter back in 2012.
Possible Contract/Existing Rumors
As I mentioned, Morrow was one of the first arms connected to this Cubs this offseason and one of the most recent too. It was only yesterday, the Cubs were said to be targeting either one of Morrow or Mike Minor to be their closer, and Minor was quickly scooped up by the Rangers, so …
At FanRag, Jon Heyman (3 years/$24M) and his expert (3 years/$23M) project relatively significant deals for a guy with one good relief season under his belt. But MLB Trade Rumors is projecting basically the exact same thing.
At FanGraphs, Dave Cameron is giving Morrow more money in AAV, but one less year overall (2 years/$22M), and you have to wonder if that’s really the better deal, given the extra $3M per year against the luxury tax threshold.
The Cubs are still well under the cap for now, but have some potentially big expenditures coming in this and next offseason, plus a number of price arbitration raises on the horizon.
Morrow has been connected to other teams besides the Cubs, though, including the San Francisco Giants.
First, the injury list from the first time the Cubs were connected to Morrow:
2008: Sore shoulder
2009: Right bicep tendinitis, stiff arm
2010: Shut down early to protect his arm
2011: Right forearm inflammation
2012: Left oblique strain (60-Day DL)
2013: Right forearm strain, Entrapped radial nerve
2014: Sprained right index finger, torn tendon sheath in right hand
2015: Right shoulder inflammation/impingement (required season ending surgery)
2016: Shoulder fatigue
Clearly, staying healthy has been a problem for him, but perhaps that’s all in the past. Up until 2015, Morrow was still trying to make it as a starting pitcher. But after five starts and 33.0 IP that season (and a failed return as a starter in 2016), he eventually moved into the bullpen for good and began to find his groove.
Still, pitchers tend not to find perfect health suddenly at age 33, so there’s an additional injury-related concern right there.
There are some concerns about his heavy usage this postseason, though, so keep that in mind, too.
Fit for Cubs
It’s pretty hard to determine the fit, here, because I’m not entirely sure what you’re going to get out of Morrow.
Will he give you 40 or fewer dominant innings? 60 or more OK innings? History tells us that he’ll be on the DL as much as on the field, but the projections believe he’ll stay healthy and productive.
I’m still slightly scared by all of the shoulder trouble, but I tend to believe in the longevity of his breakout, even at his age. And on top of everything, you have to believe the Cubs front office is at least somewhat interested in Morrow, because his name keeps turning up like a bad penny.
Clearly, the Cubs can use some relief help, though I’d prefer they target the sort of player they could lean on more heavily during the regular and postseason (like Addison Reed). But, if the Cubs ultimately land Morrow, you won’t find me frowning. The dude was a beast last season, and I’d love to see him be one for the Cubs in 2018.