It’s always difficult to discern the difference between pure speculation and something a reporter might actually be hearing when it comes to big league rumors in the offseason – especially when you consider that middle ground of informed speculation – but it all still has its usefulness.
And that’s why, today, I share the following insight from Mark Feinsand (MLB.com), who believes the Chicago Cubs are among the teams that could pursue free agent starter Kevin Gausman this offseason:
Kyle Hendricks and Alec Mills will fill two spots in Chicago’s rotation in 2022 [note this was before the Wade Miley claim], but a group of youngsters (Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson) make up the next tier of starters behind them. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said recently that he expects to have the resources “to go out and be active in free agency.” The Cubs are unlikely to sign any of the veteran starters in their mid- to late-thirties (Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, etc), but if they plan to undergo a quick rebuild following this summer’s fire sale, adding a top-of-the-rotation arm should be a priority.
Gausman, 30, has been a rumored target of the Cubs many times over the years, in both trade and free agency, and just established himself as one of the league’s best arms with back-to-back excellent performances for the Giants in 2020 (3.62 ERA over 10 starts and 59.2 IP) and 2021 (2.81 ERA over 33 starts and 192 IP). So for those two reasons, alone, you’d expect the Cubs to be interested.
But throw in the fact that they have an apparent abundance of financial resources, vast needs in the rotation, and the fact that Gausman will not be attached to draft pick compensation this winter (ineligible for a Qualifying Offer), and you hit the trifecta of reasons why this marriage could make sense. I guess I should also add that the Cubs have already been loosely connected to some other top-of-the-market starting pitchers (pretty much any starter that’s NOT one of the older guys (Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer)), but still, it’s nice to see someone finally connect the dots to Gausman, specifically.
But just because it makes sense to us doesn’t mean it’s something the Cubs would actually consider. Gausman is going to command a really significant contract after all, with projections all topping $100 million.
So where do I land on that? Actually, somewhere optimistic.
Broadly speaking, we believe the Cubs will probably prefer to spend on guys who won’t necessarily require super long-term deals, even if that comes at an artificially high short-term cost. When it comes to Gausman, he might fall somewhere in the middle? Whereas Marcus Stroman might parlay his longer track record of steady success into a five or six year deal, I wonder if Gausman lands a little shorter-term, but maybe for a higher AAV? And, indeed, Feinsand does bring up Hyun-Jin Ryu’s four-year, $80 million deal with the Dodgers, which also came one year after accepting the qualifying offer, as a foundation. It’s important to note that Ryu was a couple years older than Gausman, though both were coming off particularly strong seasons:
Ryu (2019): 2.32 ERA over 29 starts and 182.2 IP
Gausman (2021): 2.81 ERA over 33 starts and 192.0 I
Another stray note on Gausman: like a lot of pitchers, he saw his spin rates drop midseason in 2021 after the sticky stuff enforcement ban, but there wasn’t any kind of significant drop-off in his performance. And by the end of the year, the spin rates had crept back up. So I’m not sure there’s anything in particular to worry about there.
With all that in mind, would it really be all that crazy for the Cubs to offer Gausman something like 4 years and $20-$25M/year, if that’s what was required? I don’t think so. I’m not sure he won’t get another year and an AAV on the high-end of that range, though.
In any case, if the Cubs do seriously go after Gausman, you would expect it to come in coordination with some other serious win-sooner-than-later moves (that would include keeping Willson Contreras, potentially going after one of those free agent shortstops, and adding at least one more legitimate starter, etc.). In any case, it’s all speculation for now, and the Cubs are just one of eight teams mentioned, together with the Giants, Mets, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Angels, Mariners, and Astros.
And as we’ve discussed, even as the Cubs may not be in their optimal window to add significant long-term contracts right now, it’s not as if they can afford to entirely sit out the discussions with the best free agents. Also, the Cubs have been attached to Marcus Stroman already this offseason, so Gausman – given the past interest – shouldn’t really be considered a stretch.