Cubs Need Power Pitching, Tyler Glasnow ‘Seems Likely to Be in Trade Discussions’

Among several other needs this winter, the Cubs would do well to address the lack of swing and miss in their rotation. Cubs starters ranked 24th with a 20.3% strikeout rate, while both their 7.78 K/9 and 9.7% swinging strike rates ranked 25th in MLB. League averages for those respective categories were 22.1%, 8.47, and 10.8%, so the Cubs were roughly 8-10% worse across the board. Not great.

Also not great is that they could end up just running it back, assuming Marcus Stroman chooses not to opt out of his third year and that the Cubs pick up the $16.5 million option on Kyle Hendricks. I’m less worried about how Stroman impacts Hendricks than I am about how bringing both back could preclude Jed Hoyer from going out and making a meaningful addition to the rotation. Unless, that is, the front office looks to flip Stroman to a team with even more work to do on its starting five.

In addition to trimming $21 million from the budget, moving Stroman could net a prospect or two to use in a trade or backfill the system in the event of other trades. Between the need to take a big step forward and the organization’s strong depth, not to mention a little redundancy in the outfield, it’s almost assured that Hoyer is going to look for a least one big deal this offseason.

His due diligence will surely bring him into contact with the Rays, who always find new ways to reinvent themselves and will want to do so again after being swept brusquely out of the playoffs by the Rangers. As Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times wrote over the weekend, that could mean spinning off some higher-priced players whose contracts are getting both heavier and shorter.

The team will have a different look, as it always does, when reassembling in February in Port Charlotte, as team officials weigh salaries against performances, as well as current need vs. future projections. Top salaried pitcher Tyler Glasnow (a team-record $25 million) and position player Manuel Margot ($10 million) seem likely to be in trade discussions.

Not since Chris Archer have Cubs fans pined for a Tampa pitcher the way they have for Glasnow, and I have to say I’m one of them. I mean, he’s a 6-foot-8 Cillian Murphy doppelganger who can do a backflip, has an Ol’ Dirty Bastard tattoo on his foot, and looks at a picture of apex douchebag Martin Shkreli to get mad before he pitches. As for that pitching: He’s also got a big fastball, wipeout slider, and nasty curve.

Glasnow averaged 12.15 K/9 with a 33.4% strikeout rate which was actually his lowest since 2019 and a 16.4% swinging-strike rate. That latter figure was second to only Spencer Strider‘s 16.9% among 127 pitchers with at least 100 innings this past season. The sample is also significant because Glasnow logged a career-high 120 innings in 2023. Therein lies the big issue, as we’re talking about an oft-injured 30-year-old who has surpassed 100 innings just twice and has only managed more than 62 innings in three seasons.

The only other campaign in which Glasnow put up a triple-digit workload was in 2018, and that’s when he went from Pittsburgh to Tampa — in the Archer deal, no less — and made just 11 starts in 45 total appearances. All of those starts came with the Rays, for what it’s worth. An arm strain cost him most of 2019, the pandemic shortened 2020, and a UCL tear shelved him for most of both the 2021 and ’22 seasons. But where one man sees flapping red flags, another might notice only the cool breeze from all those futile swings.

Glasnow’s $25 million salary for next year is $4 million more than the next two highest salaries on the team combined, one of which is Margot. The frugal Rays are currently projected to have a payroll of around $122 million for next season, so devoting over 20% of that to one player doesn’t seem like their jam. Trading Glasnow was viewed as a foregone conclusion since they signed him to a two-year, $30.35 million deal prior to last season. The widely-held assumption was that the Rays would seek to move him after paying only $5.35 million to rebuild his value in the first year of the deal.

Though Glasnow indeed pitched well after coming back from an oblique strain that kept him out until the end of May, his sketchy injury history and limited club control at a high salary should mean the prospect return won’t be all that high. Then again, the Rays somehow manage to know other teams’ farm systems better than the teams themselves, hence their propensity for stealing future All-Stars for next to nothing. Even with that in mind, I could get behind a deal that gives the Cubs the sort of dynamic hurler they’ve sorely lacked for way too long.

Glasnow would be a very risky bet, to be sure, but the Cubs have some depth in the rotation and could have more on the come as Ben Brown and Cade Horton continue to develop. This is the kind of trade I’d really like to see the Cubs make, which means it’s pretty much a lock that it won’t happen.

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