The first free agent starting pitcher is signing (non-Wainwright, non-Graveman edition, because they kinda don’t count for the purposes here), and it’s going to offer a really important view into what that market is looking like.
The Rangers decided to go aggressive on Kyle Gibson:
Right-hander Kyle Gibson and the Texas Rangers are in agreement on a three-year, $30 million deal, sources tell ESPN.
It’s the first move in what’s expected to be a very busy winter for the Rangers as they head into their new stadium. They need pitching. Gibson is first step.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 27, 2019
To their credit, the Rangers have jumped the market before on this kind of surprisingly-sized deal – Mike Minor and Lance Lynn – and both of those ones worked out extremely well. So when it comes to them targeting pitchers in this tier and paying more than outsiders expected, they kind of have the benefit of the doubt. (He also got destroyed by the juiced ball last year, so maybe the Rangers are making a bet that will change.)
Gibson, 32, has been a perfectly solid starting pitcher for a half-decade at this point, with ERAs and FIPs typically right around, or slightly worse than league average. He’s a 4/5 in a good rotation, even for a playoff contender. Guys like Gibson are perennially underrated because they aren’t “great.” They’re just solid. Fine and solid.
Do fine and solid guys like Gibson, at 32, usually get three years and $30 million? Nope. That’s why projections had him landing something like two years and $20 million or so. But again, the Rangers have a track record with guys like this.
Although Gibson was projected to the Cubs by MLBTR, you have to keep in mind that in a market like this, projecting specific middle-tier starters to any particular team is kind of a no-win situation unless you hit on the roll of dice. Instead, Gibson is more of an idea of what the Cubs might do in free agency on the pitching side: they might get a guy who doesn’t command a huge deal, but is a useful back-end starter.
The Cubs need another arm, yes. But, in my view, don’t need to aggressively target another “fine and solid” guy, because they can probably get that performance from a combination of Tyler Chatwood, Alec Mills, Colin Rea, and Adbert Alzolay (plus whoever they pick up off the scrap heap). It’s certainly not an area of free agency I want to see the Cubs jumping on just yet. Instead, the Cubs need an impact arm that slots in near the *front* of the rotation, pushing Jose Quintana and Jon Lester – for planning purposes – into those “fine and solid” roles.
Thus, I very much want to see the Cubs aggressively working the trade market for a more impactful starting pitcher. Those deals are necessarily much harder to pull off than a free agent signing, but the kind of free agent market there is – and the kind of money the Cubs aren’t going to be committing – provides them the opportunity to spend a couple months trying to put a trade together.
If it doesn’t happen, then you look at who is left in the starting pitching market in free agency, and find a deal.
Again, the strong preference is that the Cubs could pull off the impact trade – I get really nervous about the rotation – but since they aren’t going after Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg anyway, I don’t see much sense in rushing just so that you can be the team to sign Kyle Gibson (unless one of that tier is a guy you just desperately believe you can unlock (though I’d point out that’s what the Cubs did when they blitzed the market to sign Tyler Chatwood, and it didn’t work out as hoped)). Go for the trade, and then if that that doesn’t work out, you settle for another “fine and solid” guy at the end of the offseason if it comes to that.