There are a whole lot of moving parts here, but the key piece of information is that the Cubs are reportedly seeking two starting pitchers this offseason. That comes from Jon Heyman, who listed eight teams trying to add multiple starters. It’s a deep market in that regard, especially when you factor in those players possibly available in trade, so it makes sense for Jed Hoyer to explore all the options.
Though some may be skeptical of the team’s need to fill more than the spot vacated by Marcus Stroman, we can all agree that it would be unwise to bank on just five pitchers to hold up all season. Going after two starters would allow Hoyer to shore up the rotation by pursuing a long-term deal while taking more of a risk on one year of a difference maker.
We’ve heard for a while now that the Cubs plan to be in on 25-year-old Japanese start Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who could command north of $200 million. They’ve also been linked to Shota Imanaga, the 30-year-old lefty who has excelled in NPB over the last several years. He won’t command nearly as much as Yamamoto in terms of cost or duration, but the deal would be more than just a stopgap.
What if the Cubs were to complement a big signing by trading for either Tyler Glasnow or Brandon Woodruff? The former has never pitched more than 120 innings in a season and the latter is expected to miss at least the first half due to shoulder surgery that ended his 2023 campaign, but those concerns are largely mitigated in this situation.
Woodruff is believed to be on the trading block due to the injury and what is projected to be an $11.6 million salary via arbitration, a combination that isn’t ideal for the rebuilding Brewers. Milwaukee may also want to free up a roster spot ahead of Friday’s non-tender deadline, though I don’t think they’re necessarily desperate to move him immediately. The other bonus here is that Woodruff would be eligible for a qualifying offer if traded in the offseason.
The same is true for Glasnow, though a lot of that depends on whether either of them can pitch well enough in 2024 to make turning down $20+ million a viable option. We also have to consider whether the Brewers would even be willing to entertain a trade within the division after the whole Craig Counsell thing. Though he was no longer under contract with the Brewers, they still view it as poaching the hometown boy and longtime skipper.
To that end, it’s really difficult to envision a trade involving Corbin Burnes, who ESPN’s Jesse Rogers said the Cubs “have an eye on” should the Brewers look to sell off. The ace is projected to earn $15.1 million in arbitration, a process that could once again get contentious after last year saw Burnes walk away disillusioned with team management.
“Had the [arbitration hearing] all day Tuesday, spent Valentine’s Day on a plane,” Corbin Burnes told MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. “Got home at 10, 11 o’clock and got to see my wife before she fell asleep, so that was kinda how the Valentine’s Day went, so that was fun. But yeah, like I said, you kinda find out your true value. You think you work hard for seven years in the organization and five years with the big league team and you get in there, and basically they value you much different from what you thought you had contributed to winning as an organization.
“Obviously it’s tough to hear, it’s tough to take, but they’re trying to do what they can to win here. I think there was obviously other ways they could have gone about it and probably been a little more respectful with the way they went about it, but at the end of the day here we are.”
Doesn’t sound like a guy who wants to go through that again, especially if Milwaukee is looking to tighten the pursestrings even further this coming season. Trading Burnes to the Cubs is even less likely than Woodruff because the former is both healthy and a better pitcher, so I don’t put a whole lot of credence in the idea. It’s entirely possible that he is traded out of Milwaukee, though, so the Cubs will benefit either way.
The possibilities really open up when you see it less as a list of priorities for Hoyer to work his way down and more like having different talent buckets from which he’s looking to mix and match. Or perhaps you prefer to simply write this off as another instance of peddling empty hope since the Cubs are just going to go out and shop the bargain bins again.
One more thing: The real key to bringing in a pitcher on a one-year deal is that it bridges the gap to when Shohei Ohtani will be able to return to the mound.
Update: The Brewers really wanted to clear space and salary, so they just non-tendered Woodruff on Friday. That makes him a free agent, so maybe the Cubs or another team will try to work out a two-year deal that allows him to rehab and come back in 2025 and maybe even late ’24. Kind of like what they did with Drew Smyly the first time around before the 2017 season. He rehabbed in 2018 and made just one appearance in the minors, then was traded to the Rangers the following season to clear a little financial room for the Cubs to pick up Cole Hamels‘ option.