If you were to throw the Cubs’ offseason needs into a player generator, Steven Souza Jr. is probably the first name it would spit out. He’ll turn 31 in April and didn’t play in 2019 after undergoing knee reconstruction in April, plus he missed most of the 2018 season due to a right pec strain. Souza mashed 30 homers in 2017 and his career OBP is 90 points higher than his batting average, so he knows how to draw a walk.
Trouble is, that OBP is still just .323 and his .740 OPS with a 103 wRC+ says he’s been little more than an average hitter over the course of 1,809 plate appearances. The same is true for his performance in the field, where he’s primarily played right and center in the majors after beginning his professional career as an infielder. But that means he’s probably not looking for a big contract, maybe not even a guaranteed MLB deal, which is what might make him attractive to the Cubs.
MLB.com’s Jon Morosi tweeted Thursday morning that the Cubs are indeed in on Souza, who is reportedly up to “100% intensity” on his baseball activities now that he’s eight months out from surgery. Morosi’s source said there’s also interest from the Rangers, Rays, and Giants, so Souza might have a few options from which to choose.
Free agent Steven Souza Jr., a 30-HR hitter for the Rays in 2017, is running, hitting and throwing at 100% intensity following April surgery on his left knee. Source says he’s drawing interest from the Rangers, Rays, Cubs and Giants. Good bounce-back candidate. @MLBNetwork @MLB
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 19, 2019
Unless the Cubs make some other moves, though, this doesn’t make much sense. Souza isn’t a skilled defensive player and doesn’t really do anything at the plate that adds depth or dimension to the Cubs’ offense. He’s basically Kyle Schwarber with less power and not as strong an ability to reach base, though Souza will cost a lot less than the $8-9 million Schwarber is projected to make.
Another seemingly incongruous player to whom the Cubs have been connected is Dallas Keuchel, a 32-year-old lefty whose projected salary of $13-15 million AAV falls outside the Cubs’ budget constraints. The initial report of the Cubs having a “real interest” in Keuchel came from 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine and has since been confirmed by MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, so we can feel somewhat confident in the information being legit.
To be fair, though, Feinsand only listed the Cubs among several teams — Padres, Cardinals, White Sox, Angels — that are “said to be in on Keuchel.” As such, it’s entirely possible that he’s just naming those that have been previously mentioned and not actually citing any specific information relative to each team. Regardless, the Cubs probably do have interest. But should they?
Keuchel may have a Cy Young to his credit and he acquitted himself fairly well down the stretch in Atlanta, but he’s a soft-tossing lefty who doesn’t miss a ton of bats. Last time I checked, the Cubs already had a couple of those in their rotation. Unless…yeah, that might make sense.
If the Cubs were to move José Quintana, whose option they picked up after the season, they’d free up both a rotation spot and nearly as much payroll as Keuchel would take up. Though that may be a wash on paper, Keuchel’s big value prop is an elite 58.9% career groundball rate that ranks sixth in MLB since 2012. Interestingly enough, Keuchel is the only pitcher in the top 39 with more than 1,000 innings pitched over that span.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt for missing the first few months of the 2019 season — like Craig Kimbrel, he sat out to let his qualifying offer draft pick compensation expire — may explain that elevated 1.28 HR/9 rate that sat well above his 0.91 career mark. His bowling ball sinker still generated grounders at a 60% rate, he just gave up more homers on fly balls. That’s probably as much a product of the
juiced balls inconsistent seam height of Rob Manfred’s balls as Keuchel’s skill level, so perhaps he regresses to normal in 2020.
Keuchel seems like the kind of pitcher the Cubs like, too. He’s pitched in big moments and would generate mad grounders for an infield that, fingers crossed, will play better defense moving forward. It may just come down to whether and how quickly the Cubs can move the money around to make it work.
Even if Keuchel doesn’t make much sense as things currently stand, one corresponding move could change that around in a hurry. Souza, on the other hand, remains a question mark no matter what happens. I suppose a Schwarber trade would open a spot, but Souza isn’t an ideal replacement in that case. We’ve been hearing all along that the Cubs need to free up payroll in order to sign just about anyone, even low-profile free agents, so a pursuit of Keuchel seems like a legit possibility if they’re able to move Quintana.
All things considered, I’d still prefer to see them spend bigger on Hyun-Jin Ryu or another starter ahead of Keuchel. Heck, even rolling with an in-house option would be okay with me. But I’m not making those calls yet, so we’ll see how things come out.