We have the national report that free agent lefty Steven Matz wants to pick his next team before Thanksgiving, and another national report that the Cubs are among the many teams in on him. But now we’ve got local confirmation. Things are moving quickly so I wanted to get out front of this tonight.
Bruce Levine puts it as plainly as possible. The Cubs want Matz:
Cubs definitely in on LHP Steven Matz.Fits type Cubs have identified ,power arms with experience. First report @JonHeyman with Cubs being one of several in the mix.Many players lining up for deals before possible lockout interruption.
— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) November 23, 2021
It really shouldn’t be a surprise, given that we’re talking about a power lefty who has had big league success, isn’t old, and still might have another level to unlock. I talked earlier about how I understand why the Cubs were mentioned frequently on Yusei Kikuchi because he fits this “type,” but that I wasn’t necessarily sold on him being my first choice of Cubs target. Matz, on the other hand, checks a lot more boxes for me.
With Matz, the rub is that he’s been good at managing contact, while not so great on getting the whiffs:
It’s an interesting profile, and one that we’re not used to: a command-control, contact-managing type who ISN’T a soft-tosser. It’s interesting, and I see the pitches and can’t help but think there’s some more swing-and-miss to be unlocked. Although Matz is 30, there’s not a lot of mileage on the arm (which cuts both ways, since most of the limited mileage is due to various injuries).
What you’d expect to get with him is a solid, league-average starter, with the upside to be a tick better. This is not a guy you’re signing to front your rotation, so I don’t want to give people the wrong idea here on why I like him. I like him *for this tier* of mid-range starting pitcher, because the floor seems pretty solid and there’s just a touch of upside.
Of course, a lot of teams want a guy like that:
The Mets have made an offer to bring free agent pitcher Steven Matz back home to Queens, according to a source. Talks picked up significantly after Billy Eppler finalized his deal as GM last week, but lots of competition remains. Matz has already received eight different offers.
— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) November 23, 2021
(Matz) is coming off arguably his best season yet: 29 starts, 150.2 innings pitched, 3.82 ERA, 22.3% strikeout rate, 6.6% walk rate, and a 45.5% ground ball rate. And after allowing way too much hard contact in 2020 (13.5% barrel rate and a 91.5 MPH average exit velocity), Matz got that under control in 2021, bringing the former down to a solid 7% and the latter under 88 MPH.
But setting all that aside, there’d be two larger reasons the Cubs might be interested: (1) Matz has a solidly above average fastball (95 MPH on average), which is something the Cubs *must* prioritize in any addition to a 2022 rotation that already features Wade Miley and Kyle Hendricks.
And as you can see, his fastball velocity has been ticking up the last couple of years.
And (2) Matz is not connected to a qualifying offer, which means signing him would not cost the Cubs their high second round draft pick, the associated bonus pool space, and IFA money.
Early projections for 2022 have Matz at 29 starts with an ERA about 5% better than the league average pitcher. The Cubs would still be lacking an ace, but Matz could be a very useful, sure-fire starter. Oh, and I suppose we can throw some contract predictions at the wall while I’ve got you: Kiley McDaniel projects a two-year, $25 million deal for Matz at ESPN ($12.5M AAV). Ben Clemens projects three years and $42M ($14M AAV), and the median crowd source at FanGraphs has him at three years and $38.3M ($12.8M AAV).
Those are reasonable overall commitments. I think I want the Cubs to sign Steven Matz.