GM meetings: How Cubs are approaching pitching market

By Chicago 5 Min Read

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — MLB’s general managers meetings wrapped up a little early because a stomach bug swept through the ranks. But even with morning meetings Thursday canceled, it was a week full of intrigue, with managerial hires, offseason speculation and a chance for teams to lay the groundwork for the winter.

Free-agent hitters such as Shohei Ohtani, who is expected to return to the mound in 2025, and Cody Bellinger will be the talk of the offseason, but the pitching market might stir some early intrigue. And the Cubs have holes to fill in the bullpen and, because right-hander Marcus Stroman opted out of the last year of his contract, the rotation.

‘‘There is really a frenzy for pitching,’’ agent Scott Boras said Wednesday, noting that seven teams told him they were looking for multiple starting pitchers.

Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said adding to the bullpen will be a ‘‘huge’’ priority this offseason.

‘‘Ultimately, the fatigue at the end of the year really set in, and we probably weren’t deep enough in the bullpen last year,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘I’m responsible for that, ultimately.

‘‘We’ve done a pretty good job building bullpens in the past, but [this past season] the sprint really wore us down. I felt like we had big chunks of the season when the bullpen was good, but they got overused because we were winning so many games in a condensed area.’’

Closer Josh Hader is the biggest name available among relievers. But in the Theo Epstein/Hoyer era, Craig Kimbrel was the Cubs’ biggest free-agent signing among relievers, and the three-year, $43 million he got was far below most salary projections for Hader.

Before the 2023 season, the Cubs identified bounce-back candidates among free-agent relievers, signed them to short-term deals and helped enough of them revive their careers to supplement the young relievers they had in place.

While it’s clear the bullpen will be a focus, their plan for starting pitching is a little more in flux.

The Cubs picked up their $16.5 million option on right-hander Kyle Hendricks’ contract for next season, and left-hander Drew Smyly opted into the second year of his deal. Between those two and right-hander Jameson Taillon, who is under contract through 2026, they still have veterans in their rotation. Left-hander Justin Steele, who was in the Cy Young conversation for most of the year, is arbitration-eligible for the first time, but Stroman’s departure changes the calculus on the rotation.

‘‘With Stroman, it felt like we probably had the depth we needed,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘Now that he left, we’ll definitely revisit that.’’

Hoyer said he had multiple conversations with Brodie Van Wagenen, Stroman’s agent, leading up to Stroman’s decision.

‘‘I really didn’t know which way they were going to lean,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘In this market, I think he felt like he’d secure a multiyear deal, and I think that was a priority.’’

It’s a top-heavy market for starters, with Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Cy Young finalist Blake Snell and longtime Phillies star Aaron Nola headlining the group. Hoyer traveled to Japan in September to watch the players who will be posted for major-league contracts this offseason, including Yamamoto. He wouldn’t comment on individual players, but he said of the group: ‘‘Certainly I wouldn’t have gone over there if we weren’t going to be involved.’’

Regardless of whether the Cubs land a top free-agent starter this winter, the development of their young starters will shape their depth and trajectory beyond this season.

Right-hander Hayden Wesneski began last season in the rotation and might make a push to return. Right-hander Javier Assad showed value both as a starter and a reliever. Left-hander Jordan Wicks impressed during his introduction down the stretch. And prospects Cade Horton and Ben Brown are waiting in the wings.

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