The Cubs’ interest in adding multiple, legitimate starting pitchers to the rotation this offseason is no secret. In fact, it’s arguably their top priority, and the work has already begun — They’ve reportedly been in contact with the agent of international free agent starter Kodai Senga, and they reportedly had a deal in place to trade Willson Contreras for Astros righty José Urquidy at the deadline, before Dusty Baker helped shut it down (yes, that really happened).
But Senga isn’t the only free agent available, and Urquidy won’t be the last trade candidate on the market. Enter Jon Heyman and his rolodex of rumors.
Speculation of the Marlins dealing from their stable of young starting pitchers has persisted for about a year now, but it’s never been quite this specific.
According to Heyman, Pablo Lopez is the exact arm Miami is willing to deal and a young hitter (most likely an infielder?) is what they’re seeking in return. We can work with that. But first, let’s start with Lopez, himself. What’s his deal? How good is he? How much is he making/team control? Etc. You get the idea.
Pablo Lopez – 2022 Stats
2022 was a banner year for Pablo Lopez, 26, in terms of longevity and total value, as he made 32 healthy starts (180.0 IP) for a grand total of 2.8 fWAR (44th in MLB), which isn’t the greatest measure of success for pitchers in this day and age, but does give you a general idea of where he falls. More importantly, only 21 starters made at least 32 starts this season and only 26 pitchers threw more innings than Lopez. In this era of baseball, that’s a real achievement.
On a related note, only 7 of Lopez’s 32 starts were shorter than 5.0 innings, and 16 of 32 were at least 6.0 innings. He had 14 quality starts overall.
Now, as for the other stuff, the numbers you care about: Lopez posted an above-average (and matching) 3.75 ERA and FIP, as well as above average strikeout (23.6%) and walk (7.2%) rates. His plate discipline data looks good across the board and is pretty shockingly consistent throughout his career. And Lopez did an solid job of managing hard contact. His barrel rate did rise this season, but his average exit velocity, launch angle, and hard-hit rate are all better than the league average.
He was just a really solid pitcher. Not spectacular maybe, but solidly above average and very consistent.
Pablo Lopez – Career Stats
For the most part, the pitcher Lopez was in 2022 is the guy he’s been throughout his career — with a little give in take (results for longevity):
The velocity is pretty stable, the HR/FB ratio is right in line, his groundball rate is usually better than average, he manages to keep the BABIP down with good contact management skills and so on.
In terms of pitch-mix, Lopez added a cutter a few years ago (2020), reducing use of the sinker in the process, but otherwise has been pretty consistent in this general range (2022 usage below)
Four-seam: 38.7% (93.5 MPH)
Cutter: 9.7% (88.8 MPH)
Sinker: 8.2% (93.4 MPH)
That’s a great five-pitch mix, with solid velocity he’s generally maintained throughout his career — it was a little higher in 2021 (94.0 MPH), but not by any meaningful or concerning amount.
Trading for Pablo Lopez
Okay, so we get it. He’s young, he’s consistent, he throws lots of innings, he has lots of pitches, he’s generally been successful … how do we get this guy on the Cubs?
Normally, I’d look at his stats (above), age (26), remaining years of team control (2 – 2023 and 2024), and expected salary (see below) ….
2023 arb. estimate: $5.6 million
2024 arb. estimate: $10-12 million
… and find a comparative deal from the past … but we really don’t need to do that in this case. From the Heyman tweet above, we know the Marlins are looking for hitters and nearly dealt him for Gleyber Torres, in particular, at the deadline.
In case you forgot about the former Cubs prospect, Gleyber Torres, 25, is a slightly downward trending middle infielder more suited for second base than his original place at shortstop. He hit a TON when he first joined the big leagues, but has slashed just .256/.324/.406 (106 wRC+) over his last ~1250 plate appearances.
This season, Torres slashed .257/.310/.451 (115 wRC+) with a negative defensive rating playing second base almost exclusively. He did hit 24 homers and steal ten bases, all of which adds up to 2.7 WAR.
Torres, like Lopez, is under control via arbitration in 2024, but because he was a Super 2 guy, is projected to make some real money ($9.8M this season, even more in 2024), before he hits free agency.
So do the Cubs have a guy like that? Eh. It’s complicated. In short, Nico Hoerner, who’s younger, better, cheaper, controlled for longer, and is a plus shortstop definitely has more value than Gleyer Torres. A lot more, probably. And in any case, the Cubs seem ready to commit to him long term.
Christopher Morel is not quite as established as Torres, and has more of a utility flavor to his profile. Not sure it’s what the Marlins would be looking for, and also not sure the Cubs want to part with one of the few in-house big league guys they have who can back up shortstop.
Nick Madrigal is also younger by a couple of months and is under control for 4 more years compared to Torres’ two, but has just not established any sort of baseline in the big leagues yet. That’s partly due to injuries, but I think we all saw enough this season to know it’s a little more than that. There’s real work to do. And while the pedigree, early career success, and additional two years of control are all legitimate pluses in his book, I think he’s a far less attractive trade target than Torres.
But the Cubs could always sweeten the pot with their extreme prospect depth, and moving Madrigal would allow them to more easily move Nico Hoerner over to second base if they land one of the big free agent shortstops this winter. But that’s all just blind speculation.
And beyond those three guys, the Cubs don’t really have many obvious trade candidates for the Marlins who won’t be looking for someone like Patrick Wisdom (too old) or Ian Happ (just one year of control). So basically, this might all come down to whether or not (1) Miami likes Madrigal as a center piece and (2) Chicago sweetens the pot enough to make them bite.
Either way, the Cubs should absolutely be trying for a young starter with multiple years of control like Lopez. He — and his 32-start arm — would be an ideal addition to this rotation at this point in time.