SAN DIEGO — The Cubs entered this offseason with the goal of adding at least one impact arm to a rotation rife with question marks. The North Siders zeroed in on free agent Jameson Taillon from the jump and pushed a deal up to the finish line late Tuesday night.
In the waning hours of the second day of these Winter Meetings, Chicago wrapped up a busy 24 hours by agreeing to a deal with Taillon, sources told MLB.com. According to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, the four-year contract is valued at $68 million, per a source.
In a chat with reporters Tuesday evening, Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins noted that the search for rotation help was in full swing.
“You can never have enough pitching. That’s pretty tried and true,” Hawkins said. “We would absolutely love to add as many as we can. I think we do have great internal options already that are guys that we want to continue to give innings to.
“But, there’s other guys out there that we’d be interested in bringing on board and continue to supplement that staff. Definitely, we’re engaged in that market.”
Sources told MLB.com that the Cubs were aggressive in their pursuit of Taillon from the outset of the free-agent period. They were also the only organization to meet with the pitcher in person.
Over the past two seasons with the Yankees, Taillon re-established himself as a solid Major League starter after his second Tommy John surgery wiped out most of his 2019 campaign and kept him out of action through ‘20. The righty had a 3.91 ERA in 32 starts last season, ending with 151 strikeouts against 32 walks (career-best 4.72 strikeout-to-walk ratio) in 177 1/3 innings.
The Pirates traded Taillon to the Yankees in January 2021. With New York, Taillon went a combined 22-11 with a 4.08 ERA over 61 starts, while posting an exactly league-average ERA+ of 100 in both seasons. He was somewhat homer prone, allowing a combined total of 50, but Taillon kept extra runners off the bases by ranking in the 94th percentile in walk rate in 2022.
The Pirates made the 6-foot-5 Taillon — coming out of a Texas high school — the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 Draft, going right between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. He was a highly touted prospect coming up through the Pirates’ system and debuted with Pittsburgh in June 2016. From then until his elbow injury, he made 82 starts with a 3.67 ERA (112 ERA+).
Now 31 years old, Taillon no longer has overpowering stuff. He goes after hitters with an assortment of six pitches: four-seam fastball, slider, curveball, sinker, cutter and changeup. He threw each at least 8.5 percent of the time in 2022. The curve was his best bat-missing weapon, as batters hit .168 with 43 strikeouts against it and whiffed on 32 percent of their swings.
As things stand, Taillon joins a rotation led by Marcus Stroman, who was signed to a three-year, $71 million deal in free agency last winter. Chicago also has veteran Kyle Hendricks, who is coming off an injury-marred ’22, and lefty Justin Steele, who solidified his spot on the staff with a strong showing last season.
Behind that group, the Cubs have righties Keegan Thompson, Adbert Alzolay and Adrian Sampson, who present options as starters or multi-inning relievers. Rookies Hayden Wesneski and Javier Assad also put themselves on the map late in ’22, while prospect Caleb Kilian touched the Majors and could factor more into the ’23 picture.
The Cubs lost 88 games last season, but the rotation collectively posted a 2.89 ERA in the second half. Only the Astros and Dodgers ranked better in that span. That is something Chicago’s front office can point to when trying to sell free agents like Taillon on the idea that the Cubs can construct a competitive club in ’23.
“There’s a couple different ways to get better next year, right?” Hawkins said. “There’s new additions going into next year. There’s guys that we already have that are getting better. There’s guys that we already have in the farm system that are coming up.
“And you paint that picture and you talk about the things that we’re doing. I think players saw the second half last year and the competitive team that we put on the field every day.”