Although 2017 was his final contracted season with the Chicago Cubs, John Lackey never said it would be his final season in baseball.
He was asked about it plenty, mind you, but he never quite gave up the goods. Even then, he was toasted by his teammates in the postseason in such a way as to suggest that it could be the end of the line. But still, Lackey never said the words, nor filed any papers.
And while we’ll still wait to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, Jon Heyman reports that Lackey is not planning to retire just yet:
sources: john lackey intends to pitch in 2018. not retiring.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 8, 2017
Lackey, who turned 39 last month, struggled through 2017, marking his worst season since 2011 (aka the year he pitched with a torn UCL). His 4.59 ERA was only 5% worse than league average, though, which would make him definitionally a pretty darn good fifth starter. Moreover, he posted a 3.75 ERA after the All-Star break, when he was on the disabled list with a foot issue.
For what it’s worth.
Let’s not confuse that with me saying the Cubs should aggressively pursue a reunion with Lackey to hold down a back-of-the-rotation job in 2018. Sure, I’m fine if he is under consideration, but we can’t ignore the rapid and alarming spike in his home run rate, which made him one of the most dinger-able pitchers in all of baseball. And, at 38, he saw his velocity slip from 2016, and his hard contact rate continued to climb. In 2016, his first with the Cubs, he gave up hard contact 34.4% of the time – higher than league average, and far higher than his career mark. In 2017, that figure worsened to 35.2%. Only four starters in baseball met the 170 inning threshold and gave up more hard contact.*
So, then, we’ll see where this goes. I’d be inclined to believe the Cubs will seek out more solid options at the back of the rotation, but if Lackey is going to hang around in the market until just before Spring Training, and if things don’t work out for the Cubs’ best laid plans, then maybe Lackey becomes a fall-back option until the Cubs can re-assess at midseason.
It’s also possible Lackey finds a better option sooner than that – perhaps he gets an immediate one-year big league deal from a team that wants a veteran innings-eater – and moves on of his own accord. Either way, it’s a minor surprise to see that he’s still looking around.
*Two of the four guys ahead of Lackey, for what it’s worth: Alex Cobb and Chris Archer …