Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer are always looking for bargain deals that could blossom into spectacular signings a year or two down the road. They found one with that potential on Tuesday, agreeing to a two-year, $10 million deal with free-agent pitcher Drew Smyly.
The 28-year-old left-hander was acquired by the Seattle Mariners in a Jan. 11 trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, but never threw a regular season pitch for them after injuring his elbow in spring training. He eventually underwent Tommy John surgery in late June, which figures to limit his availability for the 2018 season as well. Even in a best-case scenario, Smyly’s return to the mound wouldn’t come until around the All-Star break. That prompted Seattle to non-tender Smyly on Dec. 1, thus making him a free agent.
Smyly’s timetable to return isn’t as big a deal to the Cubs. They’ll happily pay him in 2018 so that they can oversee his recovery and put him on the best path to help them. Even if that doesn’t come until 2019, it would be worth the wait and money if Smyly comes back full strength and returns to peak form.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey certainly know what Smyly is capable of when he’s healthy. After starring in relief for the Detroit Tigers during the 2013 season, Smyly hit his stride as a starting pitcher when both worked for the Rays in 2014. Smyly made seven starts for Tampa after being included in the David Price trade, posting a 1.70 ERA.
Smyly showed continued promise in 2015, but that’s when the injuries started popping up. He had two extended stints on the disabled list and was limited to just 12 starts. Things took a real downward turn in 2016. Despite making a career high 30 starts, Smyly was mostly ineffective. His ERA ballooned to a career-high 4.88, which prompted the Rays to move on and Smyly to seek a fresh start in Seattle.
Now Smyly hopes that fresh start comes in Chicago.
It seems like an ideal situation for both sides. With a deal in place, it should be easier now for Smyly to focus on the task at hand, which is to get healthy. It helps too that he’ll be working with people he’s comfortable with and who have seen him at his best. If and when Smyly rounds into form, Maddon and Hickey should be able to identify it.
For the Cubs, it gives them another rotation option in 2019. If it looks like he’s trending in the right direction, it could change their strategy for next offseason and really allow them to focus on signing a marquee free agent. Of course, there’s no guarantee it will work out the way either side is hoping, but if it does Tuesday’s signing will go down as a major steal for Epstein and Hoyer.
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