For as much fun as I like to have complaining about it on Twitter and TikTok, the barrage of injuries hasn’t actually been the biggest problem facing the Cubs this season. It hasn’t helped, no. But the Cubs have been fortunate enough to get some really outsized contributions from a number of “Other Guys” like Jake Marisnick, Matt Duffy, Patrick Wisdom, and Sergio Alcantara (among others) along the way. Instead, the Cubs biggest problem at the moment is the rotation (0.6 WAR, 30th in MLB). And I don’t expect to get a lot of pushback on that.
On top of being dead last in WAR, they’re 19th in walk rate, 20th in IP, 21st in ERA, 28th in K-rate, 29th in batting AVG against, 29th in FIP, and t-30th in WHIP. Perhaps there have been some nice individual moments and some legitimate growth (Adbert Alzolay), but on the whole, this rotation has s-t-r-u-g-g-l-e-d.
Buuuuuuuut, the Cubs are also a half-game out of first place with plenty of impressive wins against some really tough teams and improved playoff odds from the start of the year. And if they manage to tread water through this treacherous month of June, avoiding a sell-off in July isn’t the only happy ending. They could look to add at the deadline and defend their NL Central title once again. And if they do, I think we’ll see them target a certain type of pitcher. Ideally, the Cubs would like to find a guy that could make an impact right now, sure, but also one that is more than capable of really eating some innings. And, of course, given the transitionary period, someone who isn’t likely to cost a ton in prospects to acquire. And to that, I may have one example: Rangers right-hander Kyle Gibson.
Gibson, 33, might be the the guy, himself, but he checks so many boxes for the TYPE of starting pitcher the Cubs might look to acquire at the deadline. So let’s explore that.
At the highest level, it feels worth pointing out that the Texas Rangers (23-38) are in last place of the AL West and one of the worst teams in MLB. Therefore, they should have no problem trading away a 33-year-old pitcher with 1.5 years of control remaining (hold that thought). On top of that, the Cubs and Rangers have gotten together on a lot of deals over the years, which demonstrates the sort of high-level alignment-of-value required to get this sort of deal done.
But perhaps most importantly, despite some success and a nice fit for the Cubs (hold onto that thought, too), Gibson shouldn’t break the bank in terms of acquisition cost. He’s having a really nice season, there’s no doubt about that (2.06 ERA, 3.15 FIP over 11 starts), but this level of performance is out of the ordinary for him. I don’t think the Rangers will have enough leverage to ask teams for the sort of return that’ll make you squirm.
Aside from the fact that he’s, you know, performing well, Kyle Gibson fits what the Cubs should be looking for right now in three key ways: (1) Longevity, (2) Affordable (financially), and (3) Contract Length
Longevity: Despite a brief stint on the IL (groin strain), Gibson has thrown 65.2 innings this season (36th most in MLB), and has gone 6.0+ innings in 9 out of his 11 starts. That’s more than any Cubs starter, individually and half as many as all Cubs starting pitchers COMBINED (18 starts that lasted 6.0 innings or longer). The Cubs would love to be able to keep relying on their dominant bullpen, but that will only work if the rotation stops leaning on them so much. So even if Gibson isn’t as dominant as he has been, his longevity will be perfect.
Affordable (Financially): Despite some general expectations to the contrary, the Cubs President of Baseball (Jed Hoyer) and Business Operations (Crane Kenney) have both indicated that money will not be an issue in terms of additions at the deadline.
In other words, Cubs say the money is there? Cool. I'll hold you to it. Then when great rentals with big contracts become available, I will strongly encourage Cubs to take on all the salary to ensure they don't give up too much in the way of prospect talent.
— Bleacher Nation Cubs (@BleacherNation) June 7, 2021
But even if it WERE an issue, Gibson is a pretty low-cost guy. He’s making just $9.67 million this season, more than half of which will be paid by the time the middle-end of July rolls around. And next year, he’s under contract for just $7.67 million. All things considered, that’s not actually ton of cash. The Cubs could make that work, even under some of the tightest financial restrictions … and they’re apparently under NO such restrictions at the moment. But that brings me to the final point of this section.
Contract Length: Gibson could/would help the Cubs out this year, sure, but he also comes with an addition year of control. And seeing as the only guys you could definitively pencil into the 2022 rotation are Kyle Hendricks and Adbert Alzolay, I think this could be a trade that makes sense for two Cubs teams (2021 and 2022). And, hey, who knows, maybe the Rangers would be eager to get out of paying Gibson for next year anyway.
He’s the Cubs Type of Pitcher
Lastly, this guy is such a Cubs pitcher. For one, he’s averaging just 92.8 MPH on his fastball, which isn’t exactly a compliment, but that certainly fits right in among this group. He’s also carrying SIX pitches this season: four-seamer (11.7%), cutter (13.5%), sinker (35.4%), changeup (13.4%), slider (18.6%), curveball (7.4%). Can’t you imagine the Pitch Lab dying to get their hands on a guy like that?
Gibson isn’t much of a strikeout artist (20.5%), but he has good command (7.3%), and he’s something of an extreme contact manager, to boot:
Barrels per PA: 2.7 (6th best in MLB)
Groundball%: 53.3% (6th in MLB)
Line-drive%: 18.5% (16th in MLB)
Hard%: 38.4% (57th in MLB, three spots ahead of Kyle Hendricks)
The Cubs love themselves some command/control guys who can induce weak contact, and Gibson is right there (I should note that the Rangers new stadium has been very pitcher friendly this season – that’s a non-zero consideration, especially for a contact manager).
So to recap … (1) He’s on a team that’s likely to sell that has (2) worked with the Cubs many times over the years. He’s (3) good right now, (4) but not so good that he should cost too much to acquire. He’s a fit in terms of (5) his ability to cover innings, (6) his financial affordability, and (7) his presence beyond this season. And (8) he’s exactly the sort of pitcher this Cubs team seems to love to acquire. So, I guess what I’m saying is Kyle Gibson is a pretty obvious trade fit for the Chicago Cubs if they look to add a starter in before the deadline.