Hot Stove season is here and NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at free agents who could fit the Cubs’ needs — and budget. First up is A’s starter Mike Minor.
The Cubs have a 1-2 punch in their starting rotation to rival any team in Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks, both under contract through 2023.
Behind Darvish and Hendricks, they have a few things to sort through.
The Cubs this winter could lose 60 percent of the starting rotation they were projected to break camp with this past March, before baseball’s COVID-19 shutdown. Jon Lester, Tyler Chatwood and José Quintana are free agents.
Chatwood and Quintana are unlikely to return, and Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay — both of whom team president Theo Epstein highlighted in October for taking steps forward in 2020 — are poised to take their places.
Lester and the Cubs have each expressed interest in a reunion, and a short-term, low-cost, incentive-laden deal makes sense. But whether he returns or not, and even with Mills and Alzolay presumably in the fold, the Cubs will be in the market for starting pitching and depth this winter.
No, the Cubs won’t be in the Trevor Bauer sweepstakes after experiencing revenue losses in 2020 due to COVID-19. It’s also difficult for them and every other team to forecast 2021 revenues amid all the uncertainty around the coronavirus. But as the Cubs try to “thread the needle,” as Epstein said, retooling the roster under difficult financial circumstances while remaining competitive in 2021, A’s free agent Mike Minor makes a ton of sense.
Minor, 33 in December, was good with Texas from 2018-19, averaging 30 starts with a 3.84 ERA and 1.188 WHIP. He made the All-Star team in 2019 and finished eighth in AL Cy Young voting, tying his career high in starts (32) with a 3.59 ERA, 1.238 WHIP and career-highs in strikeouts (200) and innings (208 1/3).
Things went south for the lefty in 2020 and Texas shipped him to Oakland at the trade deadline. His average four-seam fastball velocity dropped two ticks, and his ERA ballooned to 5.56 and 12 games (11 starts) — including 13 earned runs in 21 1/3 innings with the A’s.
The lost velocity could be attributed to the short ramp-up time post-COVID-19 shutdown, and despite that, Minor posted his highest strikeouts-per-nine since 2017 (when he was exclusively a reliever), including a personal best 11.4 in a small sample with Oakland. His overall walks-per-nine (3.2) in 2020 resembled his 2019 total (2.9).
If Lester doesn’t return, the Cubs will need a lefty to fill out a rotation projected to have four right-handers. Minor is coming off a down season and likely can be signed for a relatively low-cost, one- or two-year deal.
Even if Lester is back, he’s coming off seasons where he posted ERAs of 4.46 and 5.16. And while he’s proven durable the past decade (making 30+ starts from 2008-19), he’ll be 37 on Opening Day.
Add in the fact that Alzolay hasn’t been a full-time big league starter before, and Mills hasn’t in a normal season, having another veteran in the mix — one who can pitch out of the bullpen if needed — will be important.
Minor could be that guy.