Why Jameson Taillon was a top target for the Cubs this offseason
SAN DIEGO — When the offseason began, the Cubs had a list of top targets in free agency to fill holes on the roster.
In the starting pitching market, Jameson Taillon was at the top of the list for Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins.
Entering 2023, Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele are locked into rotation spots and Kyle Hendricks will be as well, assuming he is healthy (he missed half of 2022 with a capsular tear in his shoulder).
Beyond that, the Cubs had a bunch of options in house, led by top prospect Hayden Wesneski and Adrian Sampson — both of whom performed well in the rotation down the stretch. Keegan Thompson and Adbert Alzolay also add depth but both 27-year-old right-handers can pitch out of the bullpen as multi-inning relief weapons.
Javier Assad and Caleb Kilian figure to begin the year in the Triple-A rotation but will be one call away should injury strike.
The development of all that pitching led the Cubs to a different position than last offseason, when they had open spots up and down the rotation.
So this winter, the Cubs prioritized adding arms that would slot in near the top of the rotation rather than depth options.
Enter Taillon, the former No. 2 overall pick who was one of the top starters available on the market this winter.
The Cubs believe the best may be yet to come for the 31-year-old righty who has already dealt with two Tommy John surgeries and a bout with cancer in his career.
“You certainly hope so,” Hoyer said Wednesday. “Obviously it was a rocky road for him early on but since he’s been healthy beginning with the Yankees, he’s pitched really well. I think there’s still more in the tank.
“We’re excited to get him. He’s a guy we targeted at the beginning of the offseason and we had a good connection with him and our pitching guys and felt like that relationship was really strong. Glad he felt the same.”
After missing most of 2019 and all of 2020 with his second Tommy John surgery, Taillon returned to the mound in 2021 with the Yankees. He was solid (4.30 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) in 29 starts and 144.1 innings and did well at limiting free passes (2.7 BB/9).
He took a sizeable step forward in his second year post-surgery, posting a 14-5 record, 3.91 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. He also walked only 32 batters in 177.1 innings, demonstrating some of the best control in baseball last season.
Back in 2010, Taillon was so highly thought of as a prospect out of high school that he was drafted 2nd overall behind only Bryce Harper and ahead of players like Manny Machado, Matt Harvey and Chris Sale.
“He’s a guy we’ve had our eye on for a long time,” Hoyer said. “He’s a really good starting pitcher; he has been really consistent. He has continued to get better as he’s gotten healthier in his career.
“I think he showed the promise he had as the 2nd pick in the Draft. Really good mix, good command and fantastic makeup.”
It’s the character that really helped drive the Cubs’ interest in Taillon. He has already shown an ability to rise above adversity in his career.
“As we did the makeup work on him, it was 100% A+,” Hoyer said. “That does mean a lot. I think it’s really important the guys you bring into your clubhouse. When there’s unanimity about a guy’s impact, that’s really wonderful.”
Taillon’s reported deal is for 4 years, which gives him a chance to settle in and possibly help anchor the Cubs rotation through the 2026 season.
The Cubs still have talks going on in the starting pitching market, understanding the need to cover in case of injuries. But it’s more likely they’ll be active with depth-type options vs. surefire rotation arms.
The Cubs were aggressive adding starting pitchers last winter, claiming Wade Miley on waivers and signing Stroman and Drew Smyly in free agency. But they still dealt with rocky stretches from the rotation when all three of those veterans spent time on the IL and then Hendricks wound up on the shelf later in the summer.
Taillon was a top target this winter and there are plenty of in-house options but the Cubs know they can’t rest there.
“Listen, pitching wins,” Hoyer said. “Pitching and defense is such a big part of the game. The stretches last year where we struggled, it was because we didn’t have enough pitching. The stretches that we were a good team, we pitched well, we played good defense.
“You can’t have enough pitching. Obviously it was an aggressive pitching market here and we were really excited to get a guy we targeted from the beginning.”