Versatile LHP Smyly inks MLB deal with Cubs

March 19th, 2022

MESA, Ariz. --  got to experience the Wrigley Field atmosphere the last time he had a Cubs uniform. The left-hander just never got to take the mound in the old ballpark on the North Side.

"I know how fun it is to go take that field," Smyly said. "So it was always kind of a little bit sad for me that I didn't get a chance to do that when I was here."

Smyly now has that opportunity in front of him after signing a one-year, $5.25 million contract with the Cubs, as part of a flurry of roster moves made on Saturday. The lefty arrived to the team's complex and immediately got to work, throwing a bullpen session as he prepares for a rotation role.

Looking on from behind Smyly were Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and bullpen coach Chris Young. Hottovy was a part of Chicago's pitching group in '18, when Smyly spent the year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. Young was the pitching coach with the Phillies while Smyly was there in '19.

The familiarity with Hottovy, Young and the Cubs played a key role in Smyly's return.

"I've been on a lot of teams lately," Smyly said. "And the Cubs definitely are on the forefront of the technology and getting the most out of their players. So it's always been an intriguing spot to come back."

Smyly, 32, will earn a base salary of $4.25 million in 2022 and has a mutual option (or a $1 million buyout) for '23. His deal also includes $2.5 million available in incentives centered around starts and relief appearances.

As things currently stand, the Cubs' rotation is led by Kyle Hendricks, Marcus Stroman and Wade Miley. Behind that trio, Chicago has two righties (Alec Mills and Keegan Thompson) and now a pair of lefties (Justin Steele and Smyly). Given the short runway to Opening Day, Hottovy has noted that doing "piggyback" outings with multiple pitchers might be a necessity at the start of the season.

Smyly is staying open-minded about how the Cubs use him.

"I told them from the get-go," he said, "that I'm very open to being a versatile pitcher here. If they want me to pitch out of the bullpen, I'm not against it. They know I want to start and I think I'll get that opportunity to start."

Smyly originally signed a two-year deal with the Cubs before the '18 season, but he was traded the next offseason to Texas to clear payroll space. He pitched for both the Rangers and Phillies in '19, enjoyed a strong showing (3.42 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings) with the Giants in '20 and then spent '21 with Atlanta.

In 29 appearances (23 starts) last season for the Braves, Smyly had a 4.48 ERA with 117 strikeouts against 41 walks in 126 2/3 innings. Per Statcast, he averaged 92.1 mph with his fastball, while also featuring a curveball and cutter.

"I think this is one of the best organizations to kind of re-establish yourself," Smyly said. "And then, figure out what works for you, what might not work and take that information, that constructive criticism, and just roll with it."