All right. Maybe a little more clarity on the Cubs’ pitching pursuits?
While we’ve long known about the Cubs’ need to add starting pitching this offseason — at both the depth and impact levels — we haven’t really gotten much in the way of WHOM they’re actually targeting. Kodai Senga has been mentioned a few times, sure, but seeing as he’s detached from draft pick compensation and available without a posting free, he’s a priority for a whole lot of pitching-needy teams in the league. And rumors beyond him? Bupkis.
At The Athletic, Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney shine a light on the Cubs’ starting pitching targets this offseason, reaffirming some interest we already knew while adding two new names into the mix: “The Cubs continue to be active in the free-agent market for starting pitchers, a group that includes Kodai Senga, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker on their radar.”
All right. Names!
By now, you should have a good sense of what Kodai Senga offers. If not, you can read about his latest scouting report right here.
Let’s talk about the two outgoing Mets starters, Bassitt and Walker.
Bassitt is the more surprising inclusion here, both because of his age (33) and the fact that he’s attached to draft pick compensation.
I think the Cubs will/should be willing to sign a player attached to draft pick compensation this winter. But I also think that when they do, it’s more likely to be for a more impactful player they’re signing to a longer deal than Bassitt will probably get (to spread out the “cost’ of the lost draft pick/IFA money). UNLESS, of course, the Bassitt signing comes in concert with another free agent attached to draft pick compensation, reducing the relative cost of signing both.
Setting that aside, Bassitt is definitely a really interesting, win-sooner target for a team like the Cubs. He’s not going to lead a rotation any time soon, but he’s had a really solid second act of his career, starting at age-30:
2019: 25 starts, 144.0 IP, 3.81 ERA (4.00 xERA)
2020: 11 starts, 63.0 IP, 2.29 ERA (3.82 xERA)
2021: 27 starts, 157.1 IP, 3.15 ERA (3.42 xERA)
2022: 30 starts, 181.2 IP, 3.42 ERA (3.46 xERA)
In that four year period, he ranks among the top-25 in starts (93) and innings pitched (541.0), among the top-20 in ERA (3.34), and among the top-40 in FIP (3.78). And while we’re at it, his 18.6 soft% ranks 22nd, his 87.1 MPH average exit velocity allowed is 12th best, and his 6.0% barrel rate is in the top-20.
But again, he’s heading into his age-34 season. Signing Bassitt would be a little surprising if the Cubs don’t otherwise plan to add a lot more talent.
At FanGraphs, Bassitt is projected to land a deal in the range of three years and $16-$17M per year as the 14th best free agent available. But remember, the Cubs might value that lost draft pick (plus the bonus pool, plus the IFA bonus pool money) at upwards of $15 to $20 million. Every team will do a version of that calculus (and the higher you pick, the more value you’d be giving up), but it’s just something to keep in mind.
I feel like Taijuan Walker has been connected to the Cubs a thousand times over the years, without ever getting quite this direct of a rumor/connection. Maybe it was always just wishful thinking on my part. I can’t really remember.
A former first round pick (and tip-top pitching prospect), Walker has had a solid, if unspectacular career:
But he also made 11/12 starts in 2020 and 29/32 in both 2021 and 2022, which is tied for 20th over that stretch in terms of games started and 28th for innings pitched.
I keep bringing that up, by the way, because in today’s MLB, longevity is rare and valuable. The Cubs need to find themselves more guys they believe can make 90% of their starts. And it seems like Bassitt and Walker might be good bets in that respect.
Taijuan Walker is also just 30 years old, so he should have some gas left in the tank, perhaps even some additional upside as his career stabilizes.
I mean, check out this nasty splitter:
Note that Walker opted out of his $6 million player option with the Mets, who then declined to extend the one-year, $19.65M qualifying offer. As such, he is *not* attached to draft pick compensation, and can be had for just money. FanGraphs, who has Walker as the 22nd best free agent available, is projecting a deal in the three-year, $13-$14M AAV range (~$40M total).
I think both of these guys – plus Senga – are excellent targets for the Cubs this offseason. However, if they’re not going to be a threat at the top of the free agent market (Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom, Carlos Rodon), you’d hope they could land at least two pitchers of this quality.