The Chicago Cubs are 2 years removed from their first World Series Championship in 108 years. Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ President of Baseball Operations, has turned the often-embattled franchise into one of the premier teams in the MLB. Coming off of their third straight Championship Series appearance, one in which they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cubs have work to do for the upcoming season.
Free agency has long been a place of opportunity for franchises to instantly upgrade their teams. Epstein & Co. have not always excelled in free agency (Edwin Jackson, Jason Heyward), but they have struck gold from time to time (Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist). So far, this year’s free agent periods has been one of the slowest moving in recent memory. However, the Cubs are one of the few teams who have moved quickly to plug holes on their roster. Below are my grades for the Cubs’ moves so far:
Chatwood was the Cubs’ first signing this off-season. The young right-hander signed a 3-year/38 million dollar deal to be the Cubs’ fifth starter. Chatwood comes with some question marks however. He has had two Tommy John surgeries during his career, but is two years removed from it at this point. Additionally, his statistics are a bit of an enigma. Last year, Chatwood’s ERA was a staggering 6.01 at Coors field. However, on the road, Chatwood sported a sparkling 3.49 ERA. Many believe his numbers will improve once he leaves the high-altitude environment of Coors Field. If this is the case, at just over 12 million dollars a year, Chatwood could become the bargain of the off-season. Also, he can’t be much worse than John Lackey was last year, so he should be be a marked improvement to the Cubs’ rotation. Despite the positives, some are concerned the Cubs might have overpaid him a bit. That, along with his less-than-a-sure-thing numbers bring down his overall value.
If the season started today, Morrow would be the Cubs’ closer. The oft-injured righty started last season in the minor leagues with the Dodgers, before turning in 43.2 dominant innings for the big league club. The Cubs’ protected themselves from his injury history by only giving him a two-year deal. At around 10 million a year, the Cubs get a supremely talented option. Last season, Morrow struck out a dazzling 50 batters in 45 appearances. Becoming just the second pitcher to pitch in all 7 games of the World Series, Morrow cemented himself as one of the best free agent relief pitchers on the market. Unfortunately, Morrow has failed to stay healthy for the majority of his career. He also has not had much sustained success out of the bullpen aside from last year. Despite those concerns, his 98 mile an hour fastball, mixed with a devastating slider make for a hitter’s nightmare.
Smyly is coming off Tommy John Surgery, and is expected to miss the majority, if not all of the 2018 season. He comes with a lot of potential, and a respectable amount of success in the past. At just 28 years old, and a 3.74 ERA over 570 career innings, the Cubs locked up a nice piece for the future. At just 5 million dollars per year, Smyly is a great project for the Cubs to undertake. This low-risk, high-reward signing is the type of savvy move that sets The Epstein apart from his competition.
Cishek has one of the funkiest deliveries in the Major Leagues. He also is my favorite signing the Cubs have made all off-season. Cishek is a lifetime relief pitcher who has excelled over 8 seasons. He signed for 2 years/13 million dollars. Considering just how well he pitched last year, it seems like a bargain to me. In an off-season that had a plethora of available relievers, Cishek could possibly be the most underrated. Last season with the Mariners and the Rays, Cishek carved up hitters to a tune of a 2.01 ERA. However, he might have been the best reliever in baseball over the second half of the season. Once joining the Rays, Cishek gave up only 13 hits over 26 appearances. His 1.09 ERA over that span jumps off the page. If Cishek can replicate any more of that funky magic this season, expect the Cubs’ bullpen to be one of the best in the National League.
Overall, I think the Cubs have made some positive signings. They have revamped the bullpen to a formidable state, although a surefire closer would certainly make it elite. Also, the Cubs are in need of one more quality starting pitcher. The slow-moving market has prevented many from signing at this point, as Chatwood still has received the largest contract for a pitcher. Assuming the Cubs add another arm before long, the Cubs might find themselves in their fourth NLCS in as many years.
Overall Grade: A