Maybe the Cubs wouldn’t have been a suitor for free agent Eduardo Rodriguez this offseason.
At the very least, Rodriguez’ big free agent deal with the Tigers this week takes a pitcher off the board for a Cubs team looking to fill a vast need on its pitching staff.
But that doesn't mean the Cubs don’t have a plan as they wait out the market and the outcome of labor talks — or even in-house arms that some may have forgotten and might yet turn out to be "weapons" in 2022.
Enter Brailyn Márquez.
In fact, you only have to look across town at Michael Kopech and the White Sox to see how Márquez could fit into the Cubs’ plans next season.
“Pitching weapon, so to speak,” said team president Jed Hoyer in October of Márquez, a consensus top-5 Cubs prospect.
It’s been a strange two years for Márquez’ development. He spent the shortened 2020 season at the Cubs’ alternate site in South Bend after the minor-league season was canceled.
The Cubs called him up for their regular season finale, Márquez’ big-league debut. He flashed his triple-digit velocity but struggled with command, walking three while allowing five runs in a seven-batter outing.
That was the last game he pitched in. Márquez missed the entire 2021 season with a shoulder strain after he was delayed in spring training due to a positive COVID-19 test.
Kopech, meanwhile, missed all of 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He opted out of the 2020 season, returning in 2021 as a reliever so the Sox could monitor his workload.
He was a dynamic arm out of Tony La Russa’s bullpen who helped bridge games to closer Liam Hendriks. Kopech posted a 3.50 ERA in 44 games (four starts), striking out 103 in 69 1/3 innings. He’s set to join the Sox rotation full-time in 2022.
The Cubs said last week Márquez is currently completing a throwing program in Arizona and is expected to be ready for spring training. But like the Sox with Kopech, they’ll closely monitor Márquez’ innings next season, his first full campaign since 2019.
That was also the season Márquez threw the most innings of his career at any level (103 2/3 in Single-A).
“It's valid to ask how many innings he's going to have next year,” Hoyer said. “We're going to have to be careful coming off of a COVID season, coming off of a season where he didn’t pitch.
“I think those are constantly issues that we're having to ask and address. We're going to have innings limits on him. We’re going to figure out when to use that.”
The Cubs need to add a lot more pitching beyond Wade Miley. Rodriguez probably wasn’t a fit at the cost of a five-year deal — which the Cubs may not have an appetite for this winter — and surrendering draft compensation. He was tendered a qualifying offer at the start of free agency.
In fact, Márquez might be one of the reasons they're not ready to commit a long-term deal after years of failing to develop homegrown pitching. He, Ryan Jensen, DJ Herz, Caleb Kilian and 2021 first-round pick Jordan Wicks are all up-and-coming pitchers in the system.
Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson already debuted and each spent time in the rotation and bullpen in 2021.
How Márquez looks in spring training will offer a better idea for the Cubs’ plans for him in 2022, but he figures to pitch out of the bullpen whenever he joins the big-league roster. He may have joined the Cubs at some point in 2021 if not for the shoulder issue.
In the imminent future, the lefty with a 100-mph fastball could be a major weapon for manager David Ross in the middle and late innings.
“Brailyn with his arm and his ability and not having him this year, certainly that was a disappointment,” Hoyer said. “Hopefully he’s healthy and ready to go this spring and he can be a shot in the arm for us for sure.”