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, Jake McGee, 31, had a huge bounce back season with the Colorado Rockies, after falling off quite a bit the season prior. Here are his stats from last season:
In a bit of a twist from previous relievers we’ve checked out, McGee posted solid strikeout and walk rates last season, while getting better than average weak contact, but also allowed far too much hard contact and didn’t really get a ton of ground balls.
Surprisingly, that didn’t really turn into too many homers for McGee, and, in fact, thanks to a career-neutral BABIP and an unsustainably low strand rate, you can say he was pretty unlucky (2.93 FIP) relative to his results (3.61 ERA).
Performance Before 2017
And here’s the other thing, outside of a terribly rough 2016 campaign (his first in Colorado, mind you), McGee has actually been very good for most of his full-time relief career.
Indeed, from 2012-2015, McGee posted a 2.58 ERA (2.31 FIP) for the Rays, with a 32.0 K% and 6.4 BB% over 226.2 IP. And, just to ease your mind a bit, he was able to find all of that success despite a 40.9 GB% and 16.4 soft-hit rate. Not bad.
In fact, that 2.58 ERA (25th), 2.31 FIP (10th), and 5.02 K/BB ratio (10th) all ranked among the very best relievers in baseball.
In the winter of 2016, however, he was traded to the Rockies and went on to get shelled in Colorado (4.73 ERA, 5.29 FIP). To be fair, his BABIP skyrocketed once he got there (.338 versus a career .287 mark) as did his HR/FB ratio (16.1% compared to career 8.9% mark), so it seems at least some of that was out of his control.
His strikeout rate did plummet to 18.5% at Coors in 2016, though, so that was a bit disturbing, but we know pitches work different at Coors from our study on Chatwood. And, again, he was able to get it right back up to 25.3% last season, so maybe there was just a bit of an adjustment going on.
Projection for 2018 and Beyond
With that said, the early Steamer projections aren’t looking too favorably on McGee. Although they predict a solid 24.9 K% and 8.1 BB%, his 3.85 ERA and 3.92 FIP aren’t really as enticing.
ZiPS is a little kinder to McGee, with a 3.83 ERA and 3.72 FIP, but at the same time, they’re projecting another drop off in his strikeout rate (22.6%). For a guy who seems to rely a fair amount on his K-rate, that should be at least a little concerning.
There was also a noticeable drop off in velocity during that 2016 season, but we’ll get to that in a second.
Possible Contract/Existing Rumors
At FanRag, Jon Heyman (2 years/$12M) and his expert (2 years/$15M) are predicting pretty low commitments for the Rockies reliever, and, at those levels, you have to be pretty darn interested in what he has to offer.
At MLB Trade Rumors, they’re going with a smaller AAV ($6M/year), but for a greater overall commitment. In reality, these two deals are probably pretty similar in terms of value to the player.
McGee had Tommy John surgery before he reached the Majors back in 2008, arthroscopic elbow surgery back in 2014, and knee surgery in late August 2015, but has been mostly healthy and on the mound for the majority of his Major League career.
And now here’s where things get a little interesting.
Remember that down 2016 season? It may have been dude, in part, to pitching at Coors, but there may have been another reason:
2012: 96.4 MPH
2013: 97.3 MPH
2014: 97.5 MPH
2015: 95.5 MPH
2016: 94.1 MPH
2017: 95.3 MPH
Perhaps that elbow surgery after the 2014 season can explain the first drop in velocity down to 95.5 MPH, but the second drop off in 2014 is a bit harder to explain and clearly a part of his struggles (maybe the knee surgery made it hard for him to push off the mound? I’m just speculating).
Fortunately, his velocity bounced back nicely last season and there’s no reason to believe it can’t be right back up there again in 2018. And if you believe in the velocity (and the added benefit of escaping Coors) it’s hard not to want to bet on McGee.
Fit for Cubs
Back before McGee was traded to the Rockies he was often included among the “Cubs interested in Rays pitchers,” rumors. So, at a minimum, there’s probably some superficial interest there. Though, to be sure, that was two years ago and a lot could’ve changed since then. Of course, one of the things that has changed is that McGee’s old Rays pitching coach, Jim Hickey, is now with the Cubs.
In any case, the Cubs obviously need back-end relief help and McGee could be a pretty interesting upside play for not a huge commitment. He’s not as much of a sure-fire contributor as some of the other options we’ve seen, but he could offer a fair amount of upside and will likely cost a bit less.
All things considered – especially his ability to throw strikes (something this front office covets in a reliever) and expected cost – I like McGee for the Cubs.