A trickle of signings and extensions earlier this month pointed to a potentially hotter-than-expected start to free agency, and that’s just what the market has born out – particularly on the pitching side. Today, alone, the Giants added Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood. And now, it looks like another upper-middle-tier starting pitcher, Steven Matz, could make his decision within the next 48 hours.
It appears that free-agent LHP Steven Matz will be making a decision on where he’s signing on Wednesday, per source. The hot stove is sizzling before Thanksgiving.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) November 22, 2021
Matz, 30, has been a buzzy name for the Red Sox lately, but I actually wrote about him as a potential fit for the Cubs just a few days ago (recent stats, 2022 projections, contract estimates more right here):
Matz, 30, was one of those Mets arms often bandied about anytime someone mentioned the Cubs needs for young pitching and the Mets needs for bats. He’s had an up and down career, had Tommy John surgery all the way back as a prospect (2010), but 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.
The Cubs have been repeating a desire to be opportunistic and smart with their available free agent dollars this offseason, and the addition of Wade Miley does provide some cover, but if this tier of starting pitchers is going to sign before the expiration of the CBA (Dec. 1st), the Cubs may have to act more quickly than they’d otherwise prefer. If they don’t, they might be stuck with a bunch of great value deals for the guys they didn’t actually want most, which is basically what happened last offseason. And that did not work out.*
*To contradict myself, it is at least possible that the Cubs’ No. 1 target, whomever it may be, has already signaled a desire to see how the CBA shakes out before making a decision. In that case, waiting, while still risky, is at least understandable. Even still, the Cubs certainly need to add more than one starting pitcher and the fact of the matter is many of them are signing right now. Just because we think Matz is a great fit doesn’t mean the Cubs see it the same way.
So while I’m not saying they must go out and get Matz ASAP, I *am* saying that with Noah Syndergaard, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, Eduardo Rodriguez, Andrew Heaney (and to a lesser extent Jose Quintana and Jhoulys Chacin) and a Matz decision due soon, it may be time for the Cubs to stop being patient and start being aggressive.
UPDATE: The first explicit mention of the Cubs being involved on Matz, as they should be:
Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, Cubs, Cardinals, Giants, Angels, Mets are among teams in on Steven Matz. Deal could come soon. @MLBNetwork
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 23, 2021
I would expect that he’s going to see several multi-year offers, probably a number of pretty solid three-year deals in the range of DeSclafani’s signing (3/$36M), but possibly higher to account for a little more upside.
UPDATE 2: More local confirmation that the Cubs are “definitely in” on Matz.