As Jesse Rogers reported over the weekend, it is definitely happening: lefty Drew Smyly is returning to the Cubs. We’ve been expecting it since September, but now there is actually a deal agreed to. These two sides really liked their time together, so I’m excited they’ll get to continue it into 2023 and 2024.
Robert Murray has the terms:
You knew it had to have another mutual option, didn’t you? (Remember: that’s really just about deferring that $2.5 million buyout for a couple years, so that the paid-out-salary in the first two years is lower.)
We were tentatively expecting a two-year deal for Smyly and this is roughly the range I was thinking by the end of the season, even before prices for mid-tier starting pitchers escalated rapidly. Against that backdrop, a $9.5 million AAV for Smyly almost feels like a bargain.
Smyly threw 106.1 innings in 2022 across 22 starts, posting a 3.47 ERA and 4.23 FIP. The peripherals suggest there was some good luck baked into that ERA (and ZiPS kinda hates him for 2023), but his performance was probably still a good bit better than league average. When healthy, he had the look of a very good back-of-the-rotation starter, or a guy who could swing in and out of the bullpen if needed. Not a bad guy to have around for future seasons – at 33, Smyly isn’t young, but he’s thrown relatively few innings in his career and the velocity this year seemed to indicate his arm isn’t at an immediate risk for physical decline.
On the Cubs, Smyly likely slots into the rotation out of Spring Training if everyone is healthy, but I expect the Cubs to be pretty nimble on his usage, depending on their needs and on other young starters forcing their way into the mix. In other words, even if Smyly starts the year in the rotation, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him also see time in the bullpen in long or even short relief – he’s that versatile, and you have to stay that flexible. Just a really good arm to have available.
This is *probably* the last starting pitching move for the Cubs, given their extreme depth (Smyly, Jameson Taillon, Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, Kyle Hendricks, Keegan Thompson, Hayden Wesneski, Adrian Sampson, Caleb Kilian, and Javier Assad all among the options already). You should expect them to add more in the bullpen, though.
On the financial side of things, this signing and the Tucker Barnhart signing will push the Cubs over $210 million for luxury tax purposes, which means they’ll have a little under $20 million in AAV to work with for other signings if they want to stay under the luxury tax (whether they do or do not remains to be seen – they haven’t tipped their hand).
Officially, whenever Smyly is added – and Barnhart – the Cubs will have to clear a 40-man roster spot, because it is otherwise currently full. That means you might not see these deals become official for a little while, as the Cubs try to buy time to make a trade or (more likely) pick the right moment to try to sneak a player through waivers.