Mulling Over the Cubs Free Agent Targets

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Ok, so if the Chicago Cubs shouldn’t sign Jake Arrieta, what should they do to fill the backend of the rotation?  There are numerous free agents they could sign (Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, Tyler Chatwood, CC Sabathia, Jaime Garcia, Jason Vargas, Jhoulys Chacin, Jeremy Hellickson, and Doug Fister) at various price points.

Frankly, in that group, I wouldn’t overspend on Darvish.  Darvish was an amazing pitcher in Japan. He averaged a 1.73 ERA from age 20 to 24 there.  Here in Major League Baseball, he’s been very good (3.42 ERA).  So what’s the problem?  All those innings!  Darvish had thrown 1667 innings in Japan by the age of 26.  From age 27 to 30, he’s thrown only 460 as 1.5 years were cut short due to Tommy John surgery.  All those innings, especially at an early age, have taken their toll on Darvish.

As a comparison, I was certain Carlos Zambrano wasn’t going to last long with all the innings he threw at a young age.  Zambrano had thrown 1661 professional innings by age 26.  He threw only 764 Major League innings after that and he was done at the age of 32.  Yu Darvish just turned 31.  If he follows the Zambrano path, that means he has 300 innings left in his arm.  The clock is about to strike midnight.

Want another example?  Look at Felix Hernandez who threw a whopping 1924 professional innings by age 26.  He just turned 31.  How’s he looked the past few years?  So, no, the Cubs don’t need Yu Darvish.  In fact, I’d say whoever signs him is going to regret it.

Of the other names, it’s difficult to say who I’d sign as any of them could do fairly well this year or they could fall off a cliff.  My favorites though are Cobb, Chatwood, and Fister.

Alex Cobb also had Tommy John surgery and was out most of 2015 and 2016.  He had a 2.82 ERA over 309 innings in 2013 and 2014 in the vaunted AL East.  It was no fluke either as his xFIP was 3.19 over those 2 years.  Yes, please!  In 2017, he had a 3.66 ERA and 4.24 xFIP.  People will note that his K/9 rate dropped drastically from where it had been.  But Cobb’s velocity hasn’t dropped, and he pitched much better in August and September with an ERA of 2.82, a xFIP of 3.01, and a K/9 of 8.9.  Had he done that the entire season, what kind of salary would he command?  Granted, it’s a small sample size, but things are looking up for Cobb, and he just turned 30.  Staying healthy a whole year has always been a problem, but I’ll take 170 IP from my 4th starter, especially if those are quality innings.  So don’t forget about Cobb.

Remember postseason hero Charlie Morton?  His biggest weapon is his curveball.  Who has a similar spin rate on their curveball?  Tyler Chatwood.  Unfortunately, Colorado is not a good place to throw curveballs.  The high altitude flattens them out and makes them very hittable.  As you’d expect, Chatwood has been much better away from Coors Field.  He had a 3.49 ERA on the road this year (compared to 6.01 at home) and a 1.69 ERA last year on the road (compared to 6.12 at home).  Do you think Chatwood might well be very good outside of Coors field?  Chatwood was a 2nd round pick in 2008 and turns 28 next year.  I like his upside.

Is Doug Fister still in the league?  He may seem much older, but he’ll only be 34 next year.  Is the soft tosser throwing too soft and getting hammered now (as was happening to Kyle Hendricks at the beginning of the year)?  He was, but he’s back now. Of the pitchers to increase their velocity the most from 2016 to 2017, Doug Fister is at the top of the list (right next to Tyler Chatwood).  If he’s throwing just as hard as he was in his heyday, wouldn’t you expect similar results?  Let’s look at the last two months of the season for Doug Fister: 8.9 K/9 with a xFIP 0f 3.49 over 57 and 1/3 innings, all while pitching in the AL East.  Yes, that will play nicely for the Cubs.  Age is just a number.

None of these guys are sure-fire bets, but I think they’re all good bets to make.  They’ll come fairly cheap, they have a decent floor, and they have upside (partially because they all move from the AL or Coors Field to the NL and Wrigley Field).  Please sign at least 1 or 2 of them Cubs.