This week, Jon Greenberg published a Q&A with Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer, Part Two of which covered everything from new hitting coach Chili Davis to missing former top prospect Eloy Jimenez. If you have the time, you should really check it out – there’s tons of good stuff.
But one comment stood out to me, in particular, when Hoyer began discussing the Cubs’ offseason moves: “No, we were really focused this winter. We wanted to add starting pitching, starting pitching depth, quantity and quality. We wanted to add relievers who throw strikes. I think we did that. It’ll play out over the rest of the season, so it’s too early to say. We were successful in our goal, what we wanted to acquire.”
Because this offseason has been so unusual (and somehow isn’t even over yet), we haven’t really taken a beat and sized up all of the Cubs’ moves collectively, compared to what we know the team wanted/needed coming into the winter (and how good the additions they did make actually look). So I thought we could lay out all of the above and see if Hoyer’s “successful in our goal” comment is fair.
Pre-Winter Needs (no particular order):
- One veteran backup catcher
- Two rotation-ready starting pitchers
- Starting pitcher depth
- Starting pitcher lottery ticket-type
- fifth outfielder
- Relievers who focus on throwing strikes
1. One Veteran Back-up Catcher
Starting from the top, the Cubs added veteran catcher Chris Gimenez on a Minor League deal. This move was a solid one for the Cubs, regardless of whether Gimenez’s professional and friendly relationship with Yu Darvish didn’t wind up playing a role in the latter’s signing.
Of course, at 35-years-old, Gimenez is on the older side of the game and doesn’t have a ton of “upside,” so to speak. But given an expectedly heavy workload for Willson Contreras, that shouldn’t be much of a factor (indeed, Gimenez was brought in to help guide Contreras as much as anything).
But to be fair, Gimenez does excel on defense, game-calling, and pitch framing. He also walked at a 14.7% clip last season, and was an above-average hitter against right-handers (108 wRC+). His presence also provides time for the switch-hitting catching prospect Victor Caratini to work on his game at Triple-A Iowa until a greater need arrises. I won’t be handing out “grades” or anything, but, yeah, this looks like a great complementary move for the Cubs.
2. Two Rotation-ready Starting Pitchers
There’s not much that needs to be said on this one that you don’t already know. Over the offseason, the Cubs added the best starting pitcher on the market, Yu Darvish, and did so on a pretty attractive 6-year/$126 million contract. Despite his third-game billing, Darvish slides immediately into the top of the Cubs rotation, and figures to be there for many years to come.
And, of course, before that, the team added the winter’s “upside” play in Tyler Chatwood. Chatwood, as we know, stands to benefit from a move out of Colorado (for more than one reason), and is still just 28 years old. His contract also happens to be very affordable, and he lines up with Jose Quintana (29 years old, three years remaining), Kyle Hendricks (28 years old, 3 years remaining), and Jon Lester (34 years old, three (or four) years remaining).
If everything breaks right, the Cubs rotation should be set for a while.
3. Starting Rotation Depth
Of course, as we know, nothing every breaks right when it comes to starting pitchers, which is why the team needs to be prepared in the depth department. Fortunately, in Mike Montgomery, the Cubs have one of the best sixth starters in baseball, and he’s backed up by guys with experience (Alec Mills, Eddie Butler) and true prospects (Jen-Ho Tseng, Adbert Alzolay) at Triple and Double-A.
Of course, in terms of adding certified depth, the Cubs didn’t do much to excite (though, that’s rarely ever the case and, again, they have pretty solid pitching depth as it stands), but they didn’t do nothing.
Left-handers Michael Roth and Daniel Camarena both represent the type of pure depth starters the Cubs have added this offseason via free agency. Neither is going to move the needle much, but you gotta have depth. All together, I’m not blown away by the Cubs additions here, but we really don’t have to be, since adding the two sure-fire starters necessarily also improved the depth.
4. Starting Pitcher Lottery Tickets
I really like what the Cubs did in the lottery ticket arena. It’s hard to separate the “pure depth” from the “lottery ticket depth” types, but I’d say that righty Allen Webster (former top 50 prospect) and lefties Danny Hultzen (former top 30 prospect) and Drew Smyly (former top 100 prospect and successful big leaguer) all fit the bill.
All three of these guys are 28-years-old or younger and were former top prospects. We might not see any of them this season (Drew Smyly has a chance to come out of the pen in the second-half), but if the Cubs coaches can tweak something just right, these are the types of pitchers who could become quality big-league starters over the long term. Chances are they won’t turn into Jake Arrieta, of course, but these are the dice rolls always worth making.
5. Fifth Outfielder
This is the area I expected the Cubs to do more in. They did add Peter Bourjos on a split deal, but, barring an injury, he’s probably not going to make the team out of Spring Training. Obviously, the Cubs already have a pretty crowded outfield picture – especially with Ian Happ and Albert Almora really stepping things up a notch – but Jon Jay was a big part of the 2017 team and Chris Coghlan was a big part of the 2016 and 2015 teams. All of which is to say, historically, the Cubs have added a veteran fifth outfielder type, and he has helped out.
I’m not too concerned about it, but they didn’t do much here. Just sayin’.
6. Relievers Who Throw Strikes
After falling apart in the postseason (in terms of throwing strikes), one of the Cubs’ clearest goals this offseason was to add strike throwers. And add strike throwers, they did.
Last season, Brian Duensing’s 7.0% walk rate was the lowest mark among all qualified Cubs relievers, and the Cubs brought him back on a two-year, $7 million deal. Over the past two seasons, Steve Cishek has posted an 8.1% walk rate rate, which is 1.1 percentage points below the league average (a good thing!) and would’ve ranked second only to Duensing on the Cubs. He also signed a two-year deal worth $13 million.
And finally, the Cubs added closer Brandon Morrow, who’s posted 5.6%, 4.4%, and 5.3% walk rates from 2015-2017. His 5.3% walk rate in 2017 ranked among the top 15 in MLB, and he, too, got a two-year deal worth $21M ($3M buyout or $12M vesting option for 2020).
So, basically, the Cubs re-signed their best strike thrower, and added two others who would sandwich him in the rankings. All three relievers got just two year guarantees and relatively low total commitments. As far as matching needs, the Cubs front office nailed it in this respect.
Taking it all in, it’s hard to disagree with Hoyer’s sentiment: the Cubs identified their needs, targeted the right players, and executed on all fronts. Frankly, that’s why there’s not a whole lot of Spring Training battling to obsess over – everything is settled, because every box was checked.
It’s boring … and completely awesome.