There’s no questioning the Chicago Cubs ability to turn previously injured players and castoffs into successful pitchers. There are a few in this free agent class the team could take a flier on to build depth.
There’s no denying the Chicago Cubs ability to turn pitching castoffs into successful pitchers. The staff of Chris Bosio, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode have been a crucial part of the Cubs success. They’ve done it with developing young pitchers, as well as rehabilitating others back from injury. With several top free agent pitchers coming off of injury, they could find gold in this class.
I’ll take a look at four pitchers that have missed time due to injury but could be signed at a much lower cost than they would if healthy. All three have had success in recent years, but the question now is have the injuries become too much to overcome? With a starting rotation that seems “set”, these three could offer lower cost solutions to the pitching depth the Cubs hope to build.
So without further ado, some potential targets for the Cubs in this year’s free agent market.
Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
LHP Jon Niese; 2016 Stats: 8-7, 5.50 ERA, 121 IP, 88 SO, 47 BB
Jon Niese had help power the New York Mets to the playoffs as a strong mid-rotation arm. While never posting eye-popping numbers, he was an innings eater that fit his role perfectly. But his numbers were down even before a torn meniscus ended his 2016 season. At 30 years old, Niese appears to be trending in the wrong direction as he hits free agency. Could he be worth a gamble?
With a tough 2016 season and coming off an injury, Niese can’t be too picky about his role. One benefit to Niese could be his ability to be stretched out as a starter in an emergency–similar to how the Cubs used Mike Montgomery this year. Also, with the exit of Aroldis Chapman and potentially Travis Wood, the Cubs will be looking for lefty help.
Niese could be a stretch, but he’s not likely to expect a multi-year deal. If the Cubs can bring him in on a one-year deal around the $4 million mark, he might be worth taking a shot on if his rehab continues to go well.
Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
LHP Rich Hill; 2016 Stats: (2 Teams)12-5, 2.12 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 129 SO, 110.1 IP
Rich Hill has brought himself back from the brink, turning himself into one of the more coveted starting pitchers in this free agent class. While his injury issues aren’t recent, they were enough to keep him from pitching in the majors for almost a year in 2015. While he’s had a resurgence, there’s no escaping the fact that he’s going to be 37 on Opening Day.
This is a far-fetched option for the Cubs as his cost will outweigh what they’re likely willing to pay. The only way you could look at this as a possible option is in the fact that he won’t be getting a multi-year deal at his age. If the Cubs have any concern of Montgomery filling the fifth rotation spot, or are unlikely to find an in-house option, Hill could be a viable solution.
Outside of last year, Hill had one of his best seasons for the Cubs in 2007. He posted an 11-9 record with a 3.92 ERA and threw 195 innings. Unfortunately for Hill, he’s never come close to that number of innings pitched since. Consider the possibility of Hill returning to Chicago unlikely unless things change drastically.
Starting to see a pattern? Most of these pitchers are lefties. Partially coincidence, but also intent. And yes, you read that right. C.J. Wilson hasn’t seen the pitcher’s rubber in the majors since 2015. The two-time All-Star won 13 games or more in five straight seasons before elbow and shoulder issues shut him down in 2015.
Wilson had been a consistent force in the Texas Rangers and then Angels rotation, averaging 200+ innings from 2011 to 2014. But again, at 35 years old and all those innings? It could be a tough road back for Wilson. With a full year off and his rehab going well, those will work in his favor.
This is the type of signing that the Cubs could turn into something big–if they trust his medical reports are solid. Wilson may struggle to get anything besides a minor-league deal, but it’s almost a guarantee that someone is going to give him an opportunity. Could it be the Cubs?
Greg Holland could be the most intriguing of these names. After having Tommy John surgery, Holland will have had almost 17 months of rehab before Spring Training. Holland was a key to the Royals march to a championship in 2015 even though he didn’t pitch in the World Series. He was a perfect 32/32 in save chances.
Clearly, Holland isn’t Aroldis Chapman, but he also won’t command $100+ million either. The Cubs have several options at the back end. Do they still have faith in Hector Rondon? Could Carl Edwards, Jr. sneak into the role? And then there’s still Pedro Strop. So many possibilities. I feel I can safely say that Chapman is off the radar and Kenley Jansen is improbable as well. If the Cubs aren’t willing to pay good money to bring in a closer like Mark Melancon, Holland could be a target.
He hasn’t pitched since September of 2015, so there isn’t a team that’s going to pay top dollar for a guy that hasn’t pitched competitively in over a year. And it doesn’t matter how well he pitches in front of scouts. Think Tim Lincecum. Looked good in his audition, didn’t pan out in competitive baseball.