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Cubs free agent target: Drew Rucinski

Here’s an outside-the-box idea that just might work.

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

You’re already puzzled by the name on this article, and asking, “Why is that guy in a Cubs uniform? I’ve never even heard of Drew Rucinski!”

Drew Rucinski pitched in seven games for the Angels in 2014 and 2015 after being signed by Cleveland in 2011 as a non-drafted free agent out of Ohio State. The Angels let him go and the Cubs signed him in November 2015. That’s when he posed for the photo you see above — at Spring Training Media Day in 2016. He pitched in three spring games for the Cubs that year, posting a 3.60 ERA in five innings, yes, a very small sample size.

Rucinski spent 2016 at Triple-A Iowa, where... he wasn’t very good, posting a 5.92 ERA and 1.484 WHIP in 28 starts. Obviously that wasn’t good enough to get him a callup. (Wonder if he got a World Series ring anyway?)

The Cubs let him go after the 2016 season and he pitched in 34 more games for the Twins and Marlins in 2017 and 2018. Overall in MLB: 41 games (one start), 5.33 ERA, 1.593 WHIP.

So why should Rucinski be a Cubs free agent target? Because he’s spent the last four years pitching for the NC Dinos in Korea’s KBO and has been quite good: 121 starts, 3.06 ERA, 1.190 WHIP. He doesn’t walk guys — 2.3 per nine innings — and generally keeps the ball in the ballpark (0.7 HR per nine innings).

Here is video of Rucinski pitching for NC in 2019. (The catcher, incidentally, is Christian Bethancourt, who played one year in Korea and in 2022 was with the A’s and Rays.)

Keith Law posted his Top 50 MLB free agents at The Athletic yesterday and has Rucinski ranked No. 33, which intrigued me, and this sounds like a guy who’s figured stuff out and could put together some decent seasons returning to MLB:

He went to Korea after [2018], however, and has reinvented himself, getting stronger, throwing harder, and adding a splitter, to the point where he might be able to come back to MLB as a starter. Rucinski was at 92-94 mph in relief before going to Korea, but over there has been more 94-96, with a cutter in the low 90s that’s probably his best pitch and an above-average curveball that might also miss some bats here. He’s coming off his best season to date, where he walked just 4.1 percent of batters and struck out almost a quarter, and in four years in the KBO he hasn’t missed a start, taking the ball 121 times in total and never throwing less than 177 innings in any season. This at least looks and sounds like a potential league-average starter here, but there’s risk involved in any starter coming from the KBO to MLB because the quality of hitters is much higher here. I could see two years and $16-18 million-ish, or maybe three years and $20-22 million, for a team that believes he has an excellent chance to remain a starter.

Jed Hoyer obviously has some familiarity with Rucinski, as Rucinski spent the 2016 season in the Cubs organization. I certainly agree with Keith Law that there would be some risk in signing a guy like this and expecting similar results, because MLB hitters are generally better than KBO hitters, but if Rucinski is throwing 94-96 with a solid cutter, he could be worth a look.

Would you give a guy like this two years and $16 million? I think I might. He made $5.7 million in base salary over his four years in Korea and had some incentives worth a couple hundred thousand.

You might remember Josh Lindblom, another righthander who came from KBO back to MLB after 2019, at the same age Rucinski is now (33), and I suggested the Cubs might do well by signing him. Instead, he signed a three-year, $9.125 million deal with the Brewers and was just bad, pitching in only 20 games for them in 2020 and 2021 and posting a 6.39 ERA, and he spent all of 2022 in the minor leagues.

But these are two different guys, and maybe Rucinski has figured out enough to be a fifth starter type in MLB. What do you think?


Drew Rucinski...

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    ... the Cubs should sign him to a contract like the one Keith Law proposed
    (43 votes)
  • 28%
    ... the Cubs should sign him, but for less money than the Keith Law proposal
    (148 votes)
  • 62%
    ... the Cubs should not sign him
    (326 votes)
  • 1%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (8 votes)
525 votes total Vote Now