Taillon agrees to 4-year deal with Cubs

December 19th, 2022

CHICAGO -- For the second December in a row, the Cubs have added a veteran starter to strengthen the front end of their rotation. Chicago has followed last winter's surprising addition of Marcus Stroman with the signing of right-hander to a four-year contract on Monday.

"He's a guy we've had our eye on for a long time," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said before departing the Winter Meetings earlier this month. "I think he's a really good starting pitcher. He's been really consistent. I think he's continued to get better as he's gotten healthier in his career."

Taillon's four-year pact with the Cubs is valued at $68 million, sources told MLB.com, and the deal became official Monday following the pitcher completing his physical with the ballclub. News broke of Chicago's deal with Taillon on Dec. 7 at the Winter Meetings in San Diego -- one day after the club inked center fielder Cody Bellinger to a one-year contract (mutual option included) worth $17.5 million guaranteed.

Since those deals, the Cubs also reached an agreement with star shortstop Dansby Swanson on a seven-year deal worth $177 million.

"They did say that they were looking to spend and improve the team, which is obviously exciting," Taillon said via Zoom on Monday. "Any team you're on, you always want to see them try to get better. But, even regardless of that, I really hit it off with everyone I talked to and heard great things. And I thought it was going to be a great fit regardless. And now that I've come on board and have seen some of the other signings and stuff, it's definitely really exciting."

Over the past two seasons with the Yankees, Taillon re-established himself as a solid Major League starter after his second Tommy John surgery wiped out most of his 2019 campaign and kept him out of action through ‘20. The righty had a 3.91 ERA in 32 starts last season, ending with 151 strikeouts against 32 walks (career-best 4.72 strikeout-to-walk ratio) in 177 1/3 innings.

The Pirates traded Taillon to the Yankees in January 2021. With New York, Taillon went a combined 22-11 with a 4.08 ERA over 61 starts, while posting an exactly league-average ERA+ of 100 in both seasons. He was somewhat homer prone, allowing a combined total of 50, but Taillon kept extra runners off the bases by ranking in the 94th percentile in walk rate in 2022.

The Pirates made the 6-foot-5 Taillon -- coming out of a Texas high school -- the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 Draft, going right between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. He was a highly touted prospect coming up through the Pirates’ system and debuted with Pittsburgh in June 2016. From then until his elbow injury, he made 82 starts with a 3.67 ERA (112 ERA+).

Now 31 years old, Taillon no longer has overpowering stuff. He goes after hitters with an assortment of six pitches: four-seam fastball, slider, curveball, sinker, cutter and changeup. He threw each at least 8.5 percent of the time in 2022. The curve was his best bat-missing weapon, as batters hit .168 with 43 strikeouts against it and whiffed on 32 percent of their swings.

"I think he's showed the promise he had -- obviously the second pick in the Draft," Hoyer said. "Really good mix, good command and fantastic makeup."

Hoyer said the hope is that Taillon will continue to trend upward as he becomes further removed from his past health setbacks.

"We certainly hope so," he said. "Obviously, it was kind of a rocky road for him early on, but since he's been healthy and getting with the Yankees, I think he's pitched really well. Yeah, I think there's still more in the tank. Obviously, we're excited to get him."

As things stand, Taillon joins a rotation led by Stroman, who was signed to a three-year, $71 million deal in free agency last winter. Chicago also has veteran Kyle Hendricks, who is coming off an injury-marred '22, and lefty Justin Steele, who solidified his spot on the staff with a strong showing last season. Multiple reports on Sunday also indicated the Cubs were close to a deal to retain lefty Drew Smyly.

Behind that group, the Cubs have righties Keegan Thompson, Adbert Alzolay and Adrian Sampson, who present options as starters or multi-inning relievers. Rookies Hayden Wesneski and Javier Assad also put themselves on the map late in '22, while prospect Caleb Kilian touched the Majors and could factor more into the '23 picture.

The Cubs lost 88 games last season, but the rotation collectively posted a 2.89 ERA in the second half. Only the Astros and Dodgers ranked better in that span. That is something Chicago's front office can point to when trying to sell free agents like Taillon on the idea that the Cubs can construct a competitive club in '23.

If the Cubs add more starting options, it will likely be in the form of shorter contracts or depth signings. 

"You can never have enough pitching," Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins said at the Winter Meetings. "We would absolutely love to add as many as we can. I think we do have great internal options already that are guys that we want to continue to give innings to. But there's other guys out there that we'd be interested in bringing on board.