The Chicago Cubs did not sign David Price. They probably will not sign Zack Greinke either. With a definite need for starting pitching, how will the Cubs improve their rotation after it let them down in the NLCS against the New York Mets? With the retirement of Dan Haren, there is at least one opening in the back end of the rotation.
John Lackey, who pitched the 2015 season on a veteran’s minimum contract of $507,00, could be an excellent choice for the Cubs as they begin upgrading slots three through five in their rotation. Chicago is clearly set at the top with Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, and could not stomach the risk involved in signing David Price to a seven-year deal. Greinke is not leaving California, and there is no way the Cubs make a run at Johnny Cueto. That means the Cubs will have to look into the mid-tier of starters.
Lackey is coming off an age-36 season in which he earned a few Cy Young votes. With the Cardinals, the veteran right-hander went 13-10 with a career-low 2.77 ERA over 33 starts and 218.0 innings. The innings total was the second-highest total of his career (Lackey logged 224.0 innings en route to winning the 2007 American League ERA title for the Los Angeles Angels). Lackey has been solid over the past three seasons after missing the entire 2012 season due to injury, pitching to a 37-33 win-loss record with a 3.35 ERA in 93 starts.
Lackey turned 37 on October 23, and is likely getting ready to sign the final contract of his big-league career. He will easily find plenty of teams willing to offer him a two-year deal, and if his agent has any skill at the negotiating table, Lackey will likely at least get a player option for 2018. The going rate for mid-tier starters seems to be $20 million, so that’s likely about what it will take to sign Lackey.
Why is Lackey a good fit for the Cubs?
He was very good against the NL Central last year, and in his six starts against the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates, Lackey finished 41.2 innings and had a 1.73 ERA. Clearly he knows how to handle the division’s best lineups. The fallout from the end of Lackey’s Boston Red Sox career made him look like somewhat of a clubhouse cancer, but there were no problems in St. Louis. At this point of his career, Lackey is a veteran pitcher who knows how to get outs even though his arsenal is not as overwhelming as it once was — very similar to Bartolo Colon who is still going strong.
The Cubs may be the one team with enough need in their rotation to offer Lackey three years guaranteed, no option. If he gets that type of offer from the Cubs, expect Lackey to take it. The Cubs might not get an ace this offseason, but that’s perfectly acceptable, as they already have two atop their rotation. Lackey is the perfect free-agent target to stabilize the number-three slot while eating over 200 innings. There might be some risk in signing a 37-year-old pitcher, but not $217 million worth of risk. John Lackey is a great fit for the Chicago Cubs.