The Rundown: Cubs Strengthen Rotation, Hoyer Still Looking to Add Players, Reliever Market Expected to Heat Up

Jed Hoyer woke from his long winter’s nap to sign impact lefty starter Shōta Imanaga, giving fans who’ll brave this weekend’s weather to attend CubsCon something to cheer about. The team will probably sell a plethora of Imanaga jerseys at this year’s festivities, too. If you’re keeping score at home, Hoyer has now added a new starter, a new manager in Craig Counsell, several catchers on minor league deals, and three relievers as part of his annual piecemeal bullpen project.

Is he done? I don’t think so. Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman, and Brandon Woodruff could be joining Counsell and Imanaga in Chicago soon. I expect ol’ Jed to strengthen his relief corps, too. That should give the Cubs enough ammunition to win the NL Central and earn an opportunity to get smacked down in the divisional round by the Hollywood Dodgers. The West Coast powerhouse has added the entourage of Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow, Manuel Margot, and Teoscar Hernández to a 100-win team. Their 2025 rotation will remind old-timers of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Don Sutton, and Claude Osteen.

I suppose that makes the Imanaga signing equivalent to nabbing Ken Holtzman, but that’s no matter. The Cubs may go to a six-man rotation this year, which means Hoyer could/should add another starter. Cade Horton and Ben Brown are possibilities, and I’ve heard Hayden Wesneski has looked good in his offseason workouts. He’s awfully impressive when he can command the zone.

Wesneski isn’t getting the love this winter that he did a year ago and he could end up in the ‘pen, but the young righty was one of Chicago’s most effective pitchers down the stretch. In case you overlooked his accomplishments while the Cubs perfectly executed their late-season swoon, Wesneski had a 3.00 ERA with 20 strikeouts and a 1.05 WHIP across 15 September innings.

Imanaga’s NPB workload may prevent Counsell from counting on a five-man rotation, which bodes well for Wesneski. The 26-year-old will be entering his prime with an opportunity to build value, and Chicago’s new manager might be the right man to get the best from him. The upside is certainly there, and Counsell’s work with the likes of Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta — even Jimmy Nelson and Mike Fiers — should give fans some degree of hope. Fiers had a 178 ERA+ and a 2.99 FIP in his first season with Counsell when he was traded with Carlos Gómez to the Astros in 2015 for Josh Hader, Adrian Houser, Brett Phillips, and Domingo Santana.

Let me come back to earth just a bit and remind everyone that though the Imanaga signing is a good start, Hoyer still has some work to do. According to most projections, the North Siders are an 80-win team after adding the Japanese lefty to the rotation. The Cubs have been linked to Shane Bieber a lot this offseason, and I don’t think that’s changed. Chicago still needs two bullpen additions and upgrades at the corners. That said, Hoyer has finally ended his two-month hibernation and seems well-positioned to take advantage of a softening market.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Imanaga is a “fun” signing. I like that description, but I think he’s an impact addition. I can’t remember the last time the Cubs had the type of righty-lefty rotation balance they do now.

Central Intelligence

Climbing the Ladder

My current Cubs wishlist, by position and in order.

  1. Bullpen – Robert Stephenson, Jordan Hicks, Emmanuel Clase, Hader.
  2. First base – Bellinger, Josh Naylor, Rhys Hoskins, Pete Alonso.
  3. Rotation – Cease, Bieber, Jordan Montgomery.
  4. Third base – Chapman, Coby Mayo, José Ramírez, Isaac Paredes.
  5. Outfield – Randy Arozarena, Jorge Soler.

Stephenson ranked first in O-Swing% (43.4%), overall contact% (53.6%), and SwStr% (24.8%), as well as second in K-BB% (30.4%) among all pitchers with at least 50 IP in 2023.

Wednesday Stove

MLB rejected Amazon’s $150 million bid to bail out the bankrupt Bally/Diamond Sports.

The Cardinals are the best organization when it comes to drafting pitchers, while the A’s are the worst.

The Orioles are quietly emerging as the best potential landing spot for Cease.

Marcus Stroman and the Yankees are reported to have “mutual interest.”

The bullpen market might see some clarity soon. The Mets need relief pitchers and are interested in left-handers Wandy Peralta and Brent Suter, and right-hander John Brebbia.

The Dodgers remain firmly in the mix to re-sign veteran reliever Ryan Brasier.

Many of the teams interested in Hader are still prioritizing starters.

Thanks to a nasty sweeper and 100+ mph gas, Hicks is something of a unicorn among baseball’s free-agent relievers.

Apropos of Nothing

One of my recent discoveries, and a decent baseball website in case you are unaware, is Pitcher’s List.

Wednesday Morning Six-Pack

Here are six underrated pop songs of the 1960s.

  1. Star Collector by The Monkees
  2. Questions by Buffalo Springfield
  3. The “In” Crowd by The Ramsey Lewis Trio
  4. Whole Lot of Shakin’ in My Heart (Since I Met You) by The Miracles
  5. Love’s Gone Bad by Chris Clark
  6. Rain and Tears by Aphrodite’s Child

Extra Innings

I’m still not sure how Hoyer pulled this off at his price, but kudos to the Cubs president of baseball operations.

They Said It

  • “Last year, Imanaga dominated in Japan, at least when it came to strikeouts and walks. He struck out 29.5 percent of the batters he faced and walked just 3.7 percent — numbers superior to Yamamoto’s, and ones that would hang with the best pitchers in MLB last season. Kevin Gausman (31.1%K/7.2%BB), Pablo López (29.2%/6.0%), and Gerrit Cole (27.0%/5.9%) had somewhat similar rates and had great seasons.” – Eno Sarris
  • “Writing out your five guys in the rotation, it just feels like those days have gone away. As an industry, as a team, you just don’t do that anymore.” – Hoyer

Wednesday Walk-Up Song

The sky cleared up and the day turned bright…

Back to top button