This season, Chicago Cubs starters have posted a combined 4.57 ERA (23rd) and have put up just 4.1 WAR total (25th). By contrast, the offense has been exactly league average (100 wRC+, 15th), having posted 10.6 WAR to date. The result? One of the worst records in MLB. You need a lot of quality starting pitching to be competitive through a season, and right now, the Cubs simply don’t have it.*
*Before we get too far away, I will say that a 2023 foundation of Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Kyle Hendricks, and Caleb Kilian is a fine start. This isn’t a knock on any of those guys. But the broader point absolutely remains. It starts and ends with pitching, and the Cubs need more, better options.
To put that another way, if the Cubs have ANY hope of contending next season, they really need to add *at least* one high-quality, sure-fire starting pitcher to the rotation. Unfortunately, there are (1) not many available in free agency, and (2) one of the best options comes with a big fat asterisk, even if he does like Chicago and can see the tides turning in terms of competitiveness.
So to that end … Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago caught up with Giants starter – and impending free agent – Carlos Rodón in San Francisco this weekend. Rodón, 29, is having his second consecutive excellent season (3.18 ERA, 2.88 xERA over 20 starts) and would be an ideal addition to the Cubs staff. And, hey, he even seems to love Chicago:
“I’ll say this: Chicago has a dear spot in my heart,” said Giants starter Carlos Rodón, who just made his second All-Star game in as many seasons for as many teams. “It’s the city where my wife and I kind of grew up together, became adults, where we had our two children.
So … no brainer, right? Eh. Not so much.
In case you missed it, the MLBPA and MLB were unable to come to an agreement on an International Draft by their July deadline, which means draft pick compensation is still a factor for certain free agents, like Carlos Rodón, this offseason (assuming he opts out of his deal, which he is expected to do, and then is made a Qualifying Offer by the Giants). And here’s where that gets especially tricky for us, Cubs fans: Expecting one of the top picks in the upcoming draft, the Chicago Cubs will likely have one of the highest and priciest opportunity costs for signing a free agent attached to draft pick compensation like Carlos Rodón (a very high second round pick, plus that bonus pool space, plus IFA money).
Now, you might say you should be willing to give up a draft pick for the right big leaguers, and that’s absolutely true. But the Cubs (and all teams) assign a monetary value to each pick. Last season, for example, the Cubs reportedly had their 43rd overall pick pegged at right around $20M in value. This season, their pick could be even higher, and so will the associated “cost” of losing that pick.
So that means in a market that may value Rodón at $X dollars over however many years, the Cubs “market-equivalent” bid may come in at $X dollars minus $22 million (or where it ends up landing). You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to agree with it, but that’s the reality. That’s how teams operate.
Now, again, all teams will have the same calculus in signing a qualified free agent, so it’s not quite like they’ll be working from a full -$22M hole, but again, the Cubs cost figures to be more than almost all other suitors given where they’ll likely end the season.
However, there is one way this could change, and it’s why we’re discussing this otherwise-offseason-subject today.
If Carlos Rodón is traded before the deadline, he’ll become ineligible to receive a Qualifying Offer at the end of the year. And given that the Giants playoff odds have dropped *dramatically* over the last three weeks, that is certainly a possibility. But as of now, they’re still borderline buyers, if not willing to stand pat. Even if they do sell, they might consider holding onto Rodón and collecting a draft pick of their own when he declines the Qualifying Offer and signs elsewhere.
Now, this is just one example – it’s not like there aren’t other starting pitching options out there – but it’s important to keep in mind as we head towards the offseason, especially given how perfect of a fit Rodón otherwise appears to be.
(Other interesting *and young* free agent starting pitchers likely or definitely *not* attached to draft pick compensation this offseason, for what it’s worth: Noah Syndergaard (30), Jameson Taillon (31), Sean Manaea (31), Mike Clevinger (32).)