Dec 24: The Cubs have officially announced the signing of Smyly. To make room on the 40-man roster, pitcher Erich Uelmen has been designated for assignment, according to Maddie Lee of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Dec 22, 8:01pm: The deal also allows Smyly to opt out at the end of next season, reports Mark Feinsand of MLB.com (Twitter link). Smyly will have to weigh a return trip to free agency against the $11MM remaining on the contract next offseason.
7:52pm: The Cubs are bringing back Drew Smyly, agreeing with the free agent starter on a two-year deal. It’s reportedly a $19MM guarantee for the Frontline client. Smyly will make successive salaries of $8MM and $8.5MM, and the contract contains at least a $2.5MM buyout on a $10MM mutual option for the 2025 campaign.
Smyly returns after spending the 2022 season in Chicago. It was technically his second stint as a Cub, as he’d previously been a member of the organization in 2018. He spent that entire season rehabbing from a previous Tommy John surgery, though, and the Cubs dealt him to the Rangers over the 2018-19 offseason. After three years elsewhere, he returned to Chicago last winter on a $5.25MM guarantee.
The left-hander had a decent showing in 2022, working to a 3.47 ERA through 22 starts. He lost a month in the middle of the year to a left oblique strain but otherwise stayed healthy and absorbed 106 1/3 innings. He struck out a career-worst 20.4% of opponents but only walked 5.8% of batters faced. Smyly held opponents to a meager 86.7 MPH average exit velocity and induced swinging strikes on a solid 12.4% of his offerings. That quality per-pitch swinging strike rate could portend a future uptick in strikeouts. Smyly has punched out 23.2% of opponents over the course of his career, although he’s seen his lowest marks in the last two years.
Smyly doesn’t have eye-popping velocity, and his below-average ground-ball numbers have contributed to home run troubles in prior years. The longball wasn’t much of an issue this past season, though. He absolutely stifled left-handed opponents to the tune of a .191/.277/.326 line with two homers allowed through 101 plate appearances. Righties gave him some more trouble, taking him deep 14 times and posting a .258/.301/.448 mark in 346 trips to the dish.
The 33-year-old has had some injury troubles throughout his career, including the aforementioned Tommy John procedure. He’s spent time on the injured list each year since 2016, failing to reach 130 innings in any of the past six seasons. Smyly is not a prototypical innings eater, but he’s pitched to a decent 3.96 ERA in 259 1/3 frames going back to the start of 2020.
That solid rate production clearly appeals to president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and his front office. Smyly finished the 2022 season strong and earned a multi-year deal as a result, with the guarantee narrowly topping the $17MM contract Jordan Lyles received from the Royals this week. The starting pitching market generally has been quite strong, and Smyly continues that trend with a $9.5MM average annual value to slot at the back of the Chicago rotation.
The Cubs signed Jameson Taillon to a four-year deal earlier in the offseason. He’ll join Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele and presumably Smyly as locks for the season-opening starting staff. Kyle Hendricks figures to have a rotation job whenever he’s healthy, although his status is somewhat up in the air after his 2022 season was cut short by a shoulder issue. Players like Keegan Thompson, Hayden Wesneski, Caleb Kilian and Adrian Sampson could be in the mix throughout the season as depth options. Thompson held his own over 17 starts this past season, while Wesneski and Kilian are among the better pitching prospects in the Chicago organization.
Tacking on Smyly’s $8MM salary to the 2023 payroll ledger brings the team’s projected payroll around $179MM, as calculated by Roster Resource. They’re now around $107MM in guarantees for the ’24 campaign. Chicago isn’t quite back to the $200MM+ range they reached towards the end of the last decade, but they’re notably past the $140MM – 150MM range of the last two seasons. The deal adds $9.5MM to the club’s luxury tax ledger in both 2023-24; they’re now up to approximately $213MM in CBT spending for next season, $20MM shy of the $233MM base threshold.
Jesse Rogers of ESPN first reported the Cubs and Smyly were closing in on a deal. Robert Murray of FanSided reported the Cubs and Smyly had agreed to a two-year, $19MM contract and specified the financial breakdown.
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