SAN DIEGO — The Cubs entered this offseason with a goal of adding at least one hitting arm to a rotation full of question marks. Focused on free agent Jameson Taillon from the jump, the North Siders pushed a deal to the finish line late Tuesday night.
In the closing hours of day two of these winter meetings, Chicago ended 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, according to a source.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday night, Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins noted that the search for rotational help is well underway.
“You can never have enough pitches. That’s pretty tried and true,” Hawkins said. “We would very much like to add as many as possible. I think we already have great internal options that we want to keep giving innings to.
“But there are other people out there that we would like to bring on board and further complement these employees. We are definitely active in this market.”
Sources told MLB.com that the Cubs have been aggressive in their pursuit of Taillon since the beginning of the free-agent stint. They were also the only organization to personally meet with the pitcher.
In his last 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 season and sidelined him through 2020. The right-hander had a 3.91 ERA in 32 starts last season and finished with 151 strikeouts against 32 walks (career-best strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.72) in 177 1/3 innings.
The Pirates traded Taillon to the Yankees in January 2021. With New York, Taillon went 22-11 combined with a 4.08 ERA across 61 starts while posting an exact league average of 100 ERA+ 100 in both seasons. He was a bit prone to homers and allowed 50 overall, but Taillon kept extra runners off bases by being in the 94th percentile in walk rates in 2022.
The Pirates made the 6-foot-5-waist — who hails from a Texas high school — the No. 2 pick overall in the 2010 draft, right between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. He was a highly touted talent rising through the Pirates’ system, making his debut with Pittsburgh in June 2016. From then until his elbow injury, he made 82 starts with a 3.67 ERA (112 ERA+).
Taillon is now 31 years old and no longer has overwhelming things. He tracks hitters with a choice of six pitches: four-seam fastball, slider, curveball, sinker, cutter, and changeup. In 2022, he threw everyone at least 8.5 percent of the time. The curve was his best weapon for missing bats, as batters hit .168s against it with 43 strikeouts and wheezed on 32 percent of their swings.
As things stand, Taillon will join a rotation led by Marcus Stroman, who signed a three-year, $71 million deal in free agency last winter. Chicago also has veteran Kyle Hendricks, coming off injury 22, and leftwing Justin Steele, who cemented his place on the staff with a strong performance last season.
Behind that group, the Cubs have right-handers Keegan Thompson, Adbert Alzolay and Adrian Sampson presenting options as starters or multi-inning relievers. Rookies Hayden Wesneski and Javier Assad also put themselves on the map in late 22, while potential Caleb Kilian touched the majors and was able to put more into the 23 picture.
The Cubs lost 88 games last season, but the rotation recorded a combined 2.89 ERA in the second half. Only the Astros and Dodgers fared better in that range. That’s something the Chicago front office can point to when trying to sell free agents like Taillon with the idea that the Cubs can build a competitive club in 1923.
“There’s a few different ways to do better next year, right?” Hawkins said. “There are new additions coming next year. There are people we already have that are getting better. There are people that we already have in the farm system that are coming.
“And you paint this picture and you talk about the things that we do. I think the players saw the second half last year and the competitive team we put on the pitch every day.”