Justin Steele, Who is Very Smart, Wants to See the Cubs Add to the Front of the Rotation

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Justin Steele, Who is Very Smart, Wants to See the Cubs Add to the Front of the Rotation

Chicago Cubs

Justin Steele’s development in 2022 was a revelation for the Chicago Cubs. We knew he had it in him to be a very good pitcher – his minor league track record and big league success in the bullpen had shown that over the last few years – but the 2021 season left us wondering whether he could be an effective starting pitcher in the big leagues.

Well, I’d say he answered that one pretty strongly in the affirmative, yes?

Steele, 27, posted a 3.18 ERA (21% better than league average) over 119.0 innings and 24 starts, with a 3.21 FIP (18% better than league average) and a microscopic 3.9% barrel rate. Other than the late-season back injury, the year could not possibly have gone more perfectly for both Steele and the Cubs.

Which is not to say Steele doesn’t want more in 2023. More out of himself, perhaps, and more out of the rotation.

Here’s how Steele put it to the Sun-Times at the end of the season:

The Cubs’ pitching infrastructure has garnered praise this year for the starters it has produced at the upper levels of the farm system. But that young pitching depth won’t mean anything without rotation additions.

“If you go and add a top-of-the line rotation arm to what we already have,” lefty Justin Steele said, citing the Cubs rotation’s 2.89 ERA in the second half, “you could see something really special unfold.”

A strong rotation would do a lot to take pressure off the bullpen. And the Cubs add veteran bullpen arms on short-term deals every offseason.

Justin Steele, who himself pitched like an ace for long stretches of the season, wants to see the Cubs go out and add a “top-of-the-line” arm this offseason. Heck yes. Smart guy, that Justin Steele.

We have been talking about it for months now, but once you slot in a front-of-the-rotation starter for the Cubs, it’s not that hard to see how the rotation could be, as Steele put it, something really special.

1. Offseason Addition
2. Marcus Stroman
3. Justin Steele
4. Drew Smyly (we hope)
5. Kyle Hendricks; or
6. Adrian Sampson; or
7. Hayden Wesneski; or
8. Keegan Thompson; or
9. Javier Assad; or
10. Caleb Kilian

There is quality at the front of that rotation AND, just as importantly, incredible quality of depth at the back. If the Cubs also brought in a mid-rotation starter, as they very well might? Or even more quality depth? It’s just an abundance of options to help the Cubs get through the season, which will assuredly need a heckuva lot more than five starting pitchers taking the ball.

To be sure, the quality of the rotation looks a lot different if the Cubs were to sign, for example, Jacob deGrom or Justin Verlander or Carlos Rodon (and retain Drew Smyly or Wade Miley), or if they ONLY signed, for example, Kodai Senga, who is probably just slightly below that tier. That doesn’t mean Senga wouldn’t be a great addition – I’m really hoping the Cubs do it! – but I do think you have to hedge your additions a little more in that case. Probably another quality mid-rotation starter, at least.

So, when Steele says the Cubs need to add a top-of-the-line starter, that doesn’t have to mean a true ace. It could be a very good starting pitcher like Senga – whatever “top-of-the-line” means – and then also a second very good starting pitcher. Senga isn’t alone in that group this offseason, by the way, and maybe if you add multiples in that tier, you are happy. Chris Bassitt sure looks interesting. So does Jameson Taillon. You know, Michael Wacha and Tyler Anderson are potentially a heckuva lot better than you think. Heck, even Corey Kluber has re-made himself and looks mighty interesting.

None of that speaks to trades, either. Lots of potential options out there, and that might be where the Chicago Cubs have to get creative to surprise us with a top-tier addition.

Obviously I want to see the Cubs get a deGrom or a Verlander or a Rodon. Maybe that can’t happen, but I want it. I also would want them to still go out and get Senga, regardless of those three, because I think it’s a great opportunity to sign a Japanese ace straight out of free agency. Does that make me greedy? Yup!

But even if the Cubs don’t satisfy quite that level of greed, I think they can craft a very good rotation, and satisfy Justin Steele’s desire to improve the rotation at the front. They’ve got some solid arms at the front, and they’ve got exceptional depth. You just want to see a little more impact at the front. That’s when the rotation can get really special really fast.



Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.