Starting pitcher Johnny Cueto is reportedly signing a one-year, $8.5 million deal with the Miami Marlins after bouncing back exceptionally well last year with the Chicago White Sox.
I tend to think the Chicago Cubs are no longer in the starting pitching market, outside of perhaps bringing in a veteran or a reclamation type on a minor league deal as Spring Training depth. They certainly aren’t going to spend any kind of meaningful chunk of whatever payroll space they have left on a free agent starter, at least.
As far as trades go, I’d think the only starting pitcher trade they would entertain would be for a cost-controlled pitcher in whom they had a specific belief they could unlock or reclaim or next-level or however you want to phrase it (or a true front-of-the-rotation type, but I don’t know how many of those are on the market). It would have to be a guy that the Cubs believe they can do more with than any other team can, and therefore even if they have a crowded starting pitching group, they simply have to pull the trigger.
I mention all that up top not only as a reason the Cubs weren’t in on Cueto, but also as a reason why his signing may not impact the Cubs in the trade market either (even if a Marlins trade is almost certainly coming now).
We know know that the Marlins were already heavily in the trade market for a bat, trying to use their overflow of young starting pitching to pull it off. Signing a soon-to-be-37-year-old Cueto might not make sense at first blush when the Marlins already have “too many starters,” but I actually think it makes perfect sense. Not only does Cueto’s presence make it even easier to trade MULTIPLE starting pitchers if you want, but he is also a veteran leader for the younger pitchers who remain, and could himself become a trade piece at midseason when a prospect or two are ready to come up and take his place (the Marlins aren’t just overloaded in current cost-controlled starting pitchers, but they also have several prospects who could percolate up this year).
With six young starters already good to go in the Marlins’ rotation (Alcántara, Lopez, Rogers, Luzardo, Cabrera, Garrett), and now Cueto added to the mix, I think we’re probably pretty close to seeing one of those Marlins starters dealt. Pablo Lopez has long been the big rumored name, but we’ll see if there is a team out there that wants to try to get Trevor Rogers back to his 2021 form. Again, I wouldn’t presume the Cubs’ involvement here, given their own starting pitching depth, but if they believe they can REALLY do something special with one of these guys, then maybe we wind up surprised.