Evaluating a potential fit on 2023 Cubs pitching staff for Drew Smyly, Wade Miley
As the Cubs look ahead to their starting pitching plans in 2023, it’s easy to look at some of the success in the second half and think, ‘add one starter and they’re set.’
They had the third-best starting pitching ERA in the second half and had strong performances throughout the year from Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Hayden Wesneski, Adrian Sampson and Javier Assad — all of whom will return next season. Couple that with Kyle Hendricks, who is working back from injury and the rotation appears to be in a good position.
But the reality is, as the Cubs augment their rotation, it’s not as easy as that. The Dodgers, who won a National League-record 111 games, had 10 pitchers make 6 or more starts this season and 12 pitchers overall start a game. The Mets had 8 pitchers who made 9 or more starts this season.
It’s a volume game when it comes to a 162-game season.
“There’s no finish line when it comes to adding guys that can make starts in the big leagues,” Jed Hoyer said at his end-of-season press conference earlier this week.
So as Hoyer and the rest of his front office look towards building that volume to cover a full major league season, a pair of in-house options from last season become intriguing looks — Drew Smyly and Wade Miley.
The veteran lefties were added last offseason with the hope they would boost the Cubs rotation — but neither fulfilled their full expectations. Smyly made 22 starts and posted a 3.47 ERA and a 1.194 WHIP but missed time throughout the year with injuries, including the entire month of June and over two weeks in mid-September. That second injury stint came after a run where he showed just what he could provide to a rotation.
In August, Smyly posted a 0.90 ERA and 0.93 WHIP across 5 starts and had a 2.23 in his 8 starts before he suffered from shoulder fatigue in mid-September. Smyly and the Cubs hold a mutual option for 2022.
“He was outstanding for that,” Hoyer said. “Clearly, I think he wishes he could have thrown more innings throughout the whole season. But the time he really got things going, he was really good.”
Smyly has stated all year his desire to return to the team, citing the culture the Cubs have created and the environment around Wrigley Field.
“It’s what the Cubs wanna do,” Smyly said after his final outing of the season. “I hope they see me in their plans. I would love to come back. Like I’ve said all season, just playing games here and putting on this uniform is really special. Whether I came back or not, it’s just gonna be a season that I remember and really proud to put on this uniform and I feel good about the season I had.”
In Miley’s case, there’s a bigger feeling of, “what if?” In the last few seasons, Miley had found second life in his career, relying heavily on his cutter and playing his changeup off it, beginning in 2018. Since that season, he’s posted a 3.50 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP.
He was claimed off waivers last offseason and was seemingly a great addition to the Cubs’ staff in 2022 but he was hurt to start Spring Training, rushed back then got hurt again and finished the season relatively healthy, pitching through September and early October.
“It was unfortunate for him and when he did pitch, he pitched pretty well, but he obviously didn’t pitch often enough,” Hoyer said.
What Miley did provide, though, was a strong clubhouse presence for the team. That’s something that was valuable, especially to the young arms that the Cubs heavily relied on in the second half. He did all that while recovering from injury with the big-league team.
“So many guys, especially guys new to a team, would have just probably left,” Hoyer said. “They probably would have found themselves [at] home or in Arizona rehabbing elsewhere having no impact on the team.
“He’s just a really fun guy to have around every day, but also really intentional about team building, really intentional about working with the young guys on how they can get better … I think he wishes he pitched more, but I couldn’t leave the year with like a higher impression of a person as far as like this his desire to impact us.”
In Smyly, the mutual option provides an intriguing path to return — he can provide quality innings and keep a team in the game. But, if the Cubs opt to go with more certainty in terms of health, then moving on from Smyly is a possibility.
Miley’s case is a bit more interesting. Could there be teams willing to take a flyer on him on a major-league deal? Or could the Cubs or another team sign him on a minor-league deal with a Spring Training invite? There’s no doubt the impact he would have on a younger pitchers.
“With both guys in the right setup, I think we’d love to have them back,” Hoyer said. “I think they both have a really positive impact on the organization.”