On the opening day of the 2021 GM Meetings, Jed Hoyer talked about getting an early opportunity to address the Cubs’ biggest offseason need, the starting rotation.
The Cubs struck quickly, claiming Wade Miley off waivers from the Reds last week.
“We were excited to land him,” Hoyer said. “We talked about needing to add innings this winter, needing to add quality starting pitching, quality pitching throughout.”
Indeed. That makes two starting pitchers penciled into the Cubs’ 2022 rotation in Miley and Kyle Hendricks.
As the Cubs begin to fill out their roster this winter, they still need to add a lot more pitching over the coming months.
“To be able to do that in early November was exciting for us to start that process,” Hoyer said. “It’s certainly not the end of that process, but it was a great way to start it.”
Miley has a good track record and is coming off an impressive 2021 season. He threw a no-hitter, led the Reds in bWAR (6.0) and turned in a 3.37 ERA in 28 starts while tossing 163 innings.
He was an opportunistic addition with Cincinnati in cost-cutting mode. It boils down to a one-year commitment worth $10 million — the cost of Miley’s 2022 option which the Cubs picked up shortly after adding him.
The Cubs at least know they have one righty and one lefty in their rotation and have in-house options from both sides. They were right-hand dominant in 2021 — Justin Steele’s nine starts accounted for all by Cubs southpaws.
Getting more left-handed isn’t necessarily an emphasis, however, certainly with Miley in the fold and Steele playing a key role on the staff, rotation or otherwise.
“What I'm always wary of in those situations is if you run into a series where you run into a team that is excellent against left-handed pitching, there's not much you can do to pivot,” Hoyer said.
"If you have a balance of looks and handedness, I think you feel going into different series you're not going to get overwhelmed by any one team’s strength. I think that that's really important."
One way the Cubs can give opponents different looks is diversifying the types of arms in their rotation.
“We've had a lot of very similar profiles over the last few years,” Hoyer said. “There's always that question that you can't really prove, but is there a degradation among the staff if you have too many guys throwing two-seamers and control-command guys?
“At some point, are you comfortable when you've seen that a couple days in a row? I do think we have to find some different looks and some of that comes with some more power."
Part of that solution could come from within. Steele, Adbert Alzolay and Keegan Thompson are all rotation candidates and have swing-and-miss stuff.
Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander jump out as free agents with power stuff, but the Cubs were not among the 15-20 teams to attend Verlander’s showcase this week.
With where they are in their process, the Cubs don’t figure to be in the market for veterans late in their careers who want another shot at a championship.
That still leaves most of the market theoretically open to them, a group that includes Jon Gray and Carlos Rodón. Neither received the qualifying offer, meaning signing them won’t require surrendering draft compensation.
Free agent pitchers Noah Syndergaard (Mets), Eduardo Rodriguez (Red Sox) and Robbie Ray (Blue Jays) are among those who were extended the qualifying offer.
"Certainly it's something we have to factor in," Hoyer said of the qualifying offer factor. "You just have to weigh it accordingly as you think through it. I wouldn't go past that.
"It’s a calculus that we have to do if we're going to swim in those waters."
There’s three weeks until the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires, and few expect a resolution by then. That probably means a lockout and subsequent transactions freeze.
It's unlikely the Cubs will be aggressive and try to get any deals done before then — leaving a lot of work on the backside of a CBA agreement.
Whether there is a work stoppage, the Cubs’ top priority is clear.
“We know we need to add a lot of innings and that's kind of our main focus,” Hoyer said.
Contributing from California: Gordon Wittenmyer