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Cubs free-agent targets: Jake Arrieta and Taijuan Walker

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The Cubs need starting pitching. Here are a couple of ideas.

Jake Arrieta salutes fans at Wrigley in his first return as a Phillie, June 5, 2018
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

These suggestions were left in the comment section Tuesday, so I thought I’d run with them.

The Cubs are going to need starting pitching depth, particularly after letting Colin Rea go so he could pursue an opportunity in Japan.

Why not bring back former Cub Jake Arrieta for a year? Or two, on a team option, if his 2021 season is any good?

True, Arrieta’s been injured and not entirely healthy the last two seasons, and will turn 35 in March.

But after a rather rough start to his abbreviated 2020 season, his three September starts were actually... not too bad. He posted a 3.00 ERA and 1.444 WHIP in three starts, averaging six innings per start (18 innings total), with six walks and 14 strikeouts. He was shut down after a good outing against the Mets September 15, but not for arm trouble — he had a hamstring injury, a Grade 1 (the least severe type).

I am well aware that Jake’s not the pitcher he was with the Cubs in 2015 and 2016, or even the 2017 model who posted a 3.53 ERA and 1.218 WHIP in 30 starts for the Cubs that year.

By Spring Training — whenever that happens — he should be healthy and I’d think he could give the Cubs a year similar to his 2017 season, or the 2018 season he had in Philadelphia. He posted 1.9 bWAR in 2017 and 2.8 in 2018 — he’d be quite useful for the Cubs at that level of performance, not to mention the fact that his experience could be good for mentoring younger pitchers in the Cubs organization.

It would certainly be a popular move with the fanbase, not that fan popularity is any reason to do it. Would be a nice side benefit, though.

My proposal: $3 million base, $2.5 million more for 15 starts, $2.5 million more for 30 starts, so it’d be an $8 million deal. Then throw in a team option for $8 million for 2022 with a $1 million buyout.

If you’re not enamored of this idea, how about Taijuan Walker?

The Cubs brought him in for a workout last February in Mesa before the pandemic hit.

The linked article by Mark Gonzales said that the Cubs’ 40-man roster was full at the time and that his velocity was still ramping up as Walker recovered from Tommy John surgery, and that they might have only been able to offer him a minor-league deal. Walker wound up signing a major-league deal with the team that originally drafted him, the Mariners,

Walker made five starts for Seattle before they traded him to the Blue Jays in August. Walker’s six starts for Toronto were excellent, with a 1.35 ERA and 1.253 WHIP. Overall, he posted a 2.70 ERA and 1.163 WHIP in 11 starts in 2020, worth 1.3 bWAR.

Per Fangraphs, Walker’s fastball averaged 93.2 miles per hour in 2020, which is basically in line with the rest of his career. He relied less on it than in any previous year, also using his slider and a splitter that, per the Fangraphs chart, he had not previously thrown.

Walker is 28. Coming off TJS, he’d still likely be limited in his inning count this year, as he threw just 53⅓ innings in 2020, averaging fewer than five per start. On the other hand, most starting pitchers are probably going to be throwing fewer innings than usual in 2021 due to the fact that not one starting pitcher even threw 100 innings in 2020.

Walker made $2 million in 2020 after earning $5.025 million with the Diamondbacks in 2019. There were incentives in his 2020 deal with Seattle that would have paid him an extra $1 million, but he didn’t meet them.

I’d think a similar deal to the one I proposed above for Arrieta might get it done. Sign both these guys and the Cubs would have a pretty solid rotation for 2021 — and still save some of the money that would have gone to Yu Darvish this year ($23 million).

Who says no?

Poll

Jake Arrieta and Taijuan Walker...

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    ... the deals proposed in the article sound good. Sign both of them!
    (809 votes)
  • 12%
    ... just sign Arrieta
    (191 votes)
  • 21%
    ... just sign Walker
    (316 votes)
  • 9%
    ... too much for either one. Pass
    (142 votes)
  • 1%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (22 votes)
1480 votes total Vote Now