Chicago Cubs: Three free agent starters worth looking at

(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs have an opening in the rotation and they should consider signing another free-agent to compete in Spring Training.

While the Chicago Cubs trucks have arrived in Arizona to prepare for Spring Training, the team still doesn’t have much clarity for who is going to fill the fifth starter spot in the rotation. The Cubs declined to offer Cole Hamels a qualifying offer, and he signed a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves. Tyler Chatwood appears to be the front-runner for the open spot, but his 2018 season doesn’t provide much hope that he can be successful in that role.

Outside of Chatwood, Alec Mills, Colin Rea, and Adbert Alzolay would appear to be the other candidates up for consideration. We’ve briefly discussed the pros and cons of each player as they pertain to the rotation, but I still believe that the Cubs’ front office could be doing more. And while they wait to see if a potential Kris Bryant trade may bring relief in the form of a couple of starting pitching prospects, there are still a few starters on the free-agent market.

The Cubs have sat idle this offseason, strapped for cash, and up against the luxury tax for the second consecutive year. Their signings have consisted mostly of minor-league deals and a couple of major-league deals. They seem to be considering everyone and their mother for the second base position, so I see no harm in adding one or two free-agent pitchers to the roster to, at the very least, push the other candidates.

Let’s look at three players.

Jeremy Hellickson

Hellickson has been in this position before. Before the 2018 season, he signed a minor-league deal with the Washington Nationals with an invite to Spring Training. He made 19 starts for the team and posted a 3.45 ERA while striking out 65 batters in 91.1 innings. He regressed considerably last year, posting a 6.23 ERA in only nine starts. The 32-year-old lost his command, allowing as many walks last year (20) as he did all of 2018. Hellickson is a guy that could benefit from the Cubs’ pitching lab and could potentially be a serviceable fifth starter.

Trevor Cahill

Cubs fans should be very familiar with Cahill from his tenure with the team between the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He made just one start in those two years but made 60 appearances out of the bullpen. He was converted to a starter in the 2017 season with the Padres and posted a 3.69 ERA in 11 starts. He was traded to the Royals before the trade deadline and was misused as a swingman. The results reflected poorly as he posted an 8.22 ERA in three starts (10 appearances).

In 2018, Cahill was moved back to the rotation with the Oakland Athletics and posted a 3.76 ERA in 20 starts. He struck out 100 batters in 110.0 innings. The wheels fell off for him, again, in 2019, allowing 25 home runs in 11 starts with the Los Angeles Angels and was bounced back and forth between the rotation and bullpen. Cahill would be a bit of a reclamation project, but he’s still just 31 years old. He’s not going to dazzle anyone, but he has the potential to be a capable fifth starter, for the time being, anyway.

Ervin Santana

Santa had a career resurgence in 2018, posting a 3.28 ERA in 33 starts and earned an All-Star selection for the second time in his career. He signed a minor-league deal with the Chicago White Sox to open the 2019 season, made just three starts, and was designated for assignment. In that time, he posted a 9.45 ERA.

At 37 years old, Santana is in the twilight of his career and could be serviceable while being a mentor for younger pitchers as well.

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None of these moves are going to be of significance. I will admit that. However, Theo Epstein needs to try something, anything, to improve the roster. All three of the players mentioned above could likely be signed to minor-league deals with an invite to Spring Training. As noted, they could push one of the internal candidates to emerge from the pack or grab the spot for themselves.