CHICAGO -- The Cubs are in the market for a variety of pitching depth this offseason and the organization has never hesitated to take on a high-upside reclamation project. That made Jharel Cotton a probable target for Chicago as soon as the A's cut ties with the righty last week.
Sure enough, the Cubs reeled in Cotton on Saturday, acquiring the right-hander from Oakland in exchange for cash considerations. Due to injuries, Cotton has not pitched in the Majors in the past two seasons, but he comes with the stock of a once-promising prospect who still has age on his side.
Cotton's history is mostly as a starting pitcher, but he returned from elbow and hamstring issues in 2019 and moved into a relief role to ease him back and watch his workload. With a need for both rotation and bullpen depth, it would not be surprising to see the Cubs build up his innings in Spring Training before making a call on his role closer to Opening Day.
It is worth noting that Cotton has one Minor League option remaining, meaning he can be sent down to an affiliate without being exposed to waivers. As things currently stand, Cotton's most realistic path to the Major League roster would be as a reliever.
Cotton, who will turn 28 in January, underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on March 31, 2018, causing him to miss the entire '18 season. He worked his way back to games with Class A Advanced Stockton by May of '19, but he was shelved after three appearances due to a right hamstring injury that necessitated surgery.
Following those setbacks, Cotton was back on the mound by July and soon found his way to Triple-A Las Vegas, where he posted a 7.71 ERA in 18 2/3 innings (14 games) overall. His final eight appearances of the season featured 13 strikeouts against four walks with a 4.09 ERA in 11 innings.
The A's designated Cotton for assignment on Wednesday in order to add pitcher Daulton Jefferies to their 40-man for Rule 5 Draft protection. Across the 2016-17 seasons, Cotton posted a 4.95 ERA with 128 strikeouts against 57 walks in 158 1/3 innings (29 starts). The righty broke into the big leagues in September 2016, going 2-0 with a 2.15 ERA in five starts down the stretch.
Cotton's main three-pitch mix consists of a four-seam fastball, slider and changeup, but he also features a sinker and curveball.
During the 2017 season, he averaged 93.2 mph on his four-seamer, per Statcast. He also had a 30.2 percent whiff rate via his changeup. Cotton generated 70 swings and misses on 467 changeups (14.8 percent) thrown in '17. For comparison, Detroit's Michael Fulmer had 88 swings and misses in 467 changeups (18.8 percent) that same season.
Within the Cubs' current bullpen, the team has trade acquisitions in Rowan Wick and Brad Wieck, who both made significant gains with the team after making changes in the team's pitch lab. Similarly, lefty Kyle Ryan was signed to a Minor League deal prior to the 2018 season, spent that year working in the lab and at Triple-A Iowa, and emerged in '19 as a reliable setup man (3.54 ERA in 73 games).
Right now, the only virtual locks for Chicago's bullpen are closer Craig Kimbrel, Tyler Chatwood (if he is not in the rotation), Ryan and Wick. Wieck will be in the mix, along with a group of internal options. The Cubs will also be spending this winter not only adding depth (such as taking a flyer on a low-risk, high-reward arm like Cotton) but looking for more impact setup options.