With a look back at some history, and considering the context of the year, there’s something I want to put on your radar.
You know the story about this Cubs front office: having been unable for years to trade for one of those “cost-controlled young starting pitchers,” they sought about trying every other way to get useful, underpriced, comes-with-warts, basically-big-league-ready, reclamation pitching talent. Sometimes it proved to be an outrageously incredible move (Jake Arrieta), sometimes it didn’t (Eddie Butler), and sometimes it was kind of a mix or a TBD (Alec Mills, Tyler Chatwood).
If you haven’t been able to develop your own guys that way internally, and if you know you can’t fill a rotation with pricey free agents, then you’re going to have to hit on some of these reclamation types. Since they come with the aforementioned warts and are being dealt away at a low price tag for a reason, your hit rate is always going to be very low. But I tend to think the Cubs have generally done pretty well (they’ve done this in the bullpen, too), in large part because they have long targeted specific guys about whom they already had specific tweaks/developments in mind. “If we just get this guy in OUR system, we know we can do X, Y, and Z.”
One of these types who was long rumored in connection with the Cubs as he was falling out of favor with his original team was Kevin Gausman. A long-time Orioles top pitching prospect and then not-quite-over-the-hump starting pitcher, Gausman was a guy who popped up in rumors every now and again, and we speculated about a lot. Turns out we had the right idea, as Gausman’s new GM Scott Harris, and former Cubs assistant GM, told him over the offseason (The Athletic): “After I signed, I was on the phone with Scott and he told me, ‘Man, when I was with the Cubs, we literally tried to trade for you every year,’” Gausman said. “That’s awesome. You always want to be in a place where you’re valued and wanted.”
The Cubs “literally tried to trade for [Gausman] every year.” That sounds about right.
The Cubs didn’t ever make it happen, though. When the Orioles finally decided to move on in mid-2018, it was the Braves who pounced and got a great half-season from him, with some control thereafter. But then he struggled out of the gate for the Braves through mid-2019, at which point it was the Reds who pounced and got a great half-season from him (out of the bullpen), with some control thereafter. But the Reds decided to pass on that final year of arbitration, non-tendered Gausman, and he wound up signing a one-year, $9 million deal with the Giants, who almost certainly looked at him as a flip candidate in a pre-pandemic world. That’s how he landed with Harris after he departed the Cubs this offseason.
Wonder if the Cubs still really like Gausman?
Once again, Gausman, now 29, is probably looking mighty intriguing to a whole lotta teams out there with the Trade Deadline 10 days away. His 4.65 ERA through 6 appearance isn’t special (7% worse than league average by ERA-), but some of the peripherals are eye-popping: 31.6% K rate, 4.5% BB rate, 3.14 FIP (26% better than league average), 13.3% IFFB rate. His 66.7% left on base rate skews very unlucky. He is giving up a lot of hard contact and line drives at the moment, so that’s something to be considered.
But some of the video and data is neat:
Pitch No. 106 for Kevin Gausman is a 96.5 mph fastball that gets his 11th strikeout. That's a career-high.— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) August 16, 2020
As a pure rental who carries a not insubstantial salary in this environment, Gausman would not net the Giants much in trade. But he would certainly get them more than nothing (a lower-lower, lower-ceiling B-ish prospect?), and the opportunity to save even a million bucks in salary this year is going to appeal to a whole lot of clubs.
Of course, that brings out the question as it relates to the Cubs: even if they really, really wanted Gausman in the past, are they going to give up a solid prospect *AND* add to payroll during pandemic-ball? We’ve spoken at length about the risks of and hurdles to making trades this year. It’s a factor.
Then there’s the question of role. Gausman has been a starter for most of his career, and that’s likely where his highest and best value is to the market. You’d be paying the “starter” price tag to acquire him, and it isn’t immediately clear that he’s SO MUCH BETTER than the Cubs’ 4/5/6/7 options right now, which include Jose Quintana, Tyler Chatwood, Alec Mills, and Adbert Alzolay.
Then again, we still don’t know a thing about how Quintana is going to look. We don’t know how bad Chatwood’s back issue is. We don’t know if Mills’ last outing was a fluke or if the first couple outings were. We don’t know if Alzolay is yet over that hump.
And it’s not as if Gausman didn’t show with the Reds that he can be very good out of the bullpen, too. Worst case, you acquire him, and then he eats out of your bullpen on into the postseason. The Cubs would definitely be better served adding a lefty at this point, but I’m just saying – there’s some flexibility here. Plus, this is a Cubs team that clearly COULD go far in the postseason. Supplementing any question mark areas, even if imperfectly, is hardly a bad thing.
Oh, also? The relationship between Harris and the Cubs’ front office could conceivably make putting a deal together at a time like this – where you have to have enormous levels of trust and background knowledge on both sides – a little more likely than with other clubs.
For now, there are no rumors to report beyond the Cubs’ strong interest in the past, Gausman’s success this year, and his expiring contract on a team likely out of the race. The Trade Deadline is 10 days away.
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