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
Lance Lynn took a fairly significant step backwards in 2017, in his return from Tommy John surgery. And while his traditional numbers didn’t look much worse for it, the peripherals certainly did/do:
For the first time in his entire career, Lynn posted a FIP above 4.00 – and not just slightly. His 3.43 ERA was still well below the league average, but from where I’m sitting he doesn’t have the peripherals to support that.
Yes, his soft-hit rate and hard-hit rate were both about 3 percentage points better than average, but neither was “elite” by any stretch of the imagination, and probably can’t justify an ERA nearly a run and a half lower than his FIP. Moreover, his ground ball rate was consistent for his career, but middling compared to the league average, and his fly ball rate ballooned over the league average mark.
Indeed, his .244 BABIP in 2017 represented a HUGE drop from his career .297 rate (.319 in 2015) and even his strand rate, while consistent with previous seasons, doesn’t make much sense given that his strikeout rate dropped three percentage points.
Lynn also got crushed by lefties in 2017, as he so often has in his career: .243/.354/.463, with a .349 wOBA.
Performance Before 2017
But here’s the thing, Lynn was pretty darn good before this season. Well, to be clear, he didn’t pitch in 2016 (we’ll get to that in a second), but from 2012-2015, his 13.0 fWAR ranked 20th most in the Majors, just two spots behind Jake Arrieta, three behind Johnny Cueto, and four behind Jose Quintana.
And even though he was never much of a strikeout artist, his 22.6% strikeout rate does rank 25th during that stretch. Similarly, while he wouldn’t have been confused for an “elite contact manager,” his 18.6% soft-hit rate did rank 29th and his hard hit rate ranked among the top 60.
Put simply, Lynn was a quality middle of the rotation pitcher who sometimes achieved more than that – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, especially because he’s still just 30 years old.
Projection for 2018 and Beyond
Unfortunately, the early projections don’t love Lynn’s chances next season. ZiPS does believe his FIP will improve to 4.73 in 2018, but also that his ERA will finally hit that hard wall of regression (4.67 ERA).
Moreover, despite making 33 mostly healthy starts in 2017, ZiPS thinks that one more year of aging won’t be kind to the former Cardinals’ health: 26 starts, 150 IP. With a further drop in his strikeout rate, a still-high walk rate, a regression his BABIP, and no elite batted ball numbers to fall back on, things don’t look great for Lynn going forward on the projection front.
Although, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that much of this depends on if he gets his fastball velocity back. After hovering around 93.5 MPH for most of his career, Lynn was around 92.5 MPH this season. If, one more year away from surgery, he gets some velo back, everything could look a lot different. And based on his potential contracts and rumors, I think many are banking on that.
Possible Contract/Existing Rumors
At FanRag, Jon Heyman (4 years/$56M) and his expert (5 years/$75M) are way off in what they project Lynn can get as a free agent. So much so, in fact, that I’d be somewhat interested at the former level and pretty turned off by the later.
At MLB Trade Rumors, Tim Dierkes seems to agree and projects the same exact contract as Heyman, believing the Rangers will be the ones to give it to him.
At FanGraphs, Dave Cameron thinks he’ll get even less, both in years and dollars, with a 3 year/$48M deal. Again, at these levels, color me interested, given the Cubs’ needs a the back of the rotation.
At Baseball Prospectus, the Rangers once again pop up as the predicted landing zone. So basically we’re looking at something between 3-5 years and $15M/$16M AAV.
Back in November 2015, the Cardinals announced that Lance Lynn would miss the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery, and that’s exactly what happened. As I said, he came back healthy and strong in 2017, but his velocity did take a hit.
If he could show teams that the velocity is still returning, then I can see him getting something on the higher end of those rumors. If not, then it might be the lower.
At a minimum, Lynn figures to be a high-quality back-end arm. On the high-end, he could be a pretty solid number 3. Given how much pitching matters, that’s still worth plenty.
Lynn received and rejected a qualifying offer from the Cardinals, so he is tied to draft pick compensation.
Fit for Cubs
Anyone who’s watched the Cubs in recent years will know that Lynn is a solid pitcher. He just is. The Tommy John surgery, depressed velocity, and worse peripherals matter, but he’s just not a scrub.
And, so, given that the Cubs front three rotation arms are set, Lynn actually could slide in quite nicely near the end of the rotation. They’ve certainly seen a lot of him and the front office, by now, is probably very familiar with what he’s got going on.
It’s not always fun to imagine former enemies playing for our beloved Cubs, but in Lynn, on a reasonable deal, I can see it making sense.
At the same time, I think Lynn operates in the same stratosphere as Alex Cobb, both in terms of contract demands/risk/upside/etc, and I think they’ll only end up with one pitcher from this tier. For me, that guy is Alex Cobb over Lynn by a hair, but the final contract obviously plays a role in that.
So we’ll have to wait and see, but Lynn, 30, could be a sneaky solid option, especially if the price is right. If there are teams that are aggressive on him, though, it’s hard to see the Cubs preferring Lynn to Cobb.