A major free agency domino has finally fallen in this slow-moving MLB offseason. According to multiple sources, including Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic, the Chicago Cubs have signed right-handed starter Tyler Chatwood to a three-year contract worth $38m. His signing may set the market for other mid-level starters on the market this winter, namely Jaime Garcia and Lance Lynn.
Chatwood spent the 2017 season with the Colorado Rockies and though his 15 losses led the NL (compared to eight wins) and he posted a 4.87 ERA, he had a better year than the bare bones stats would suggest. He posted an excellent groundball rate (GB%) of 58.1% and saw his fastball velocity increase. Not only that, but Chatwood's high ERA can be attributed to his posting a mark of 6.01 at hitter-friendly Coors Field compared to 3.49 on the road.
This is a good signing for the Cubs on the whole, but far from perfect. On top of that, it's strange that the Cubs would look outside the organization for rotation depth with prospects in Adbert Alzolay and Oscar De La Cruz waiting in the wings.
Chatwood the Cub
Given the money involved in the deal, it's likely Chatwood will take over the rotation spot once occupied by veteran John Lackey. This makes sense as Lackey is 39 years old and was 12-12 with a 4.59 ERA last season. Thus, better for Cubs front office tandem Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to spend money on a younger arm to pitch alongside Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and whichever man manager Joe Maddon opts to use as the fifth starter, be it Shohei Ohtani or someone else.
Chatwood passes the age test with his 28th birthday coming next weekend, and his GB% and road numbers suggest that he will be a fine addition in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Between that and his increased velocity, Chatwood's consistency is just what the Cubs need after a season plagued by a World Series hangover.
Not only that, but Chatwood is moving from a team on the up-and-up to one ready to win now. No disrespect to the Rockies, but Chicago is a year removed from winning the World Series and can now take the lows of 2017 and learn from them to be an absolute force once again in 2018. Chatwood isn't the definite missing piece nor the X-factor, particularly since the Cubs ranked seventh in MLB with a staff ERA of 3.95 last season, but he definitely improves the rotation enough that the lineup will have more confidence in producing runs with a reliable arm on the mound.
The Cubs' assumed risk
Like any free agent signing, Chatwood is far from perfect. He missed all of 2015 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and hasn't yet truly established himself as an innings eater. Chatwood has never thrown more than 158 innings in a season and missed brief time with a calf injury in 2017. The Cubs will need him to provide consistency and plenty of quality starts in 2018, a tall order for someone who has always pitched from the middle to the back end of the rotation.
Granted, Chatwood has a combined 23 quality starts over the past two seasons, but Chicago has established enough of a winning culture in the last three years that positive results will be expected immediately. Keep in mind that the money Chatwood is earning also could have been put towards an extension for Hendricks, who is about to go to arbitration for the first time, or even star third baseman and former MVP Kris Bryant.
In fact, when MLB Network's Jon Morosi reported last month that the pitching-hungry Baltimore Orioles were interested in Chatwood, the last team I thought would be in play for him would be the Cubs. They had few holes to fill, a winning core, and certainly didn't need to spend money on a mid-level arm to stay in contention in the NL Central.
All in all, the Chatwood signing makes sense for the Cubs. Lackey, despite his inconsistencies last year, is a significant loss, and the young arms Chicago has in its system just aren't yet ready for the spotlight. Chatwood's injury history comes with questions and just how consistent he can stay after years of playing at Coors Field remains to be seen but in terms of Chicago's overall needs, he'll do just fine on the North Side.