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Cubs free agent target: Robert Stephenson

The Cubs need bullpen help. Here’s where they might find some.

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

There aren’t a lot of free agents from MLB Trade Rumors’ Top 50 list who remain unsigned (although, of course, Cody Bellinger is one of them), and one area the Cubs definitely need to improve is the bullpen. It can be reasonably argued that with a better bullpen, the Cubs might have won as many as 90 games and made the postseason in 2023 (their Pythagorean projection had them as a 90-win team).

The Cubs already have a closer, Adbert Alzolay, so where they need to improve is in the setup area of the pen.

And righthander Robert Stephenson might be the guy to do just that. Here’s what MLBTR wrote about him, noting significant improvement after he was traded from the Pirates to the Rays in June 2023:

Upon landing in Tampa Bay, he began throwing an upper-80s cutter that took the place of his mid-80s slider as his go-to breaking pitch. By September, Stephenson had completely ditched the slider and was leaning on the cutter almost three-quarters of the time. It’s not hard to see why. Hitters made contact on the pitch just 41.1% of the time they offered at it. Stephenson struck out nearly 43% of batters faced as a Ray, holding opponents to a putrid .138/.187/.300 batting line in 140 trips to the plate.

A former first-round pick, Stephenson has always had intriguing stuff. Pairing the cutter with a fastball that sits in the 96-97 MPH range made him essentially untouchable for four months. Stephenson picked up swinging strikes on 28.7% of his offerings in Tampa Bay. Not only was that tops in the majors, it’s nearly three times the MLB average and almost eight percentage points higher than second-place Felix Bautista. No one should expect him to sustain that kind of dominance, but there’s an argument that Stephenson is now one of the top handful of relievers in the sport.

Well. That all sounds pretty good, Beyond the peripheral numbers cited above, Stephenson had an excellent walk rate, just eight walks among 140 batters faced after the trade.

Here’s Stephenson’s pitch selection chart from 2023:

Statcast

That’s a better pitch selection than a lot of relievers, many of whom are two-pitch pitchers. He also throws an average four-seamer at almost 97 miles per hour. Josh wrote about Stephenson here last November with a little more info.

MLBTR says Stephenson might be worth a four-year, $36 million deal. That seems a bit pricey and too many years.

How about a two-year, $16 million contract? At this stage of the offseason, who says no?

Poll

Robert Stephenson...

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    ... the Cubs should sign him to a deal like the one proposed by MLBTR
    (101 votes)
  • 53%
    ... the Cubs should sign him to a deal like the one proposed in the article
    (214 votes)
  • 18%
    ... the Cubs should sign him, but to a different deal in years or dollars or both
    (73 votes)
  • 2%
    ... the Cubs should not sign him
    (11 votes)
  • 0%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (3 votes)
402 votes total Vote Now