The Cubs are offering Kendall Graveman a chance to spend the upcoming year rehabbing his right elbow under the care of their medical team. In return, Chicago will have a cost-effective layer of depth for the next two seasons.
On Sunday, the Cubs announced that they signed Graveman to a one-year Major League contract that includes a team option for the 2020 campaign. The right-hander will not be an option for the Opening Day roster in '19, but this signing is based upon taking a long-term approach with a once-effective pitcher who is currently on the comeback trail.
The 28-year-old Graveman was non-tendered by the A's in November following a forgettable season that ended with Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on July 24. A typical recovery timetable for that type of procedure is 12-18 months, meaning Graveman is not likely to be an option until deep into the 2019 season, if at all.
Graveman's contract with the Cubs will pay him $575,000 for 2019, though his base salary would jump to $2 million (pro-rated) if he were to spend at least one day on the active Major League roster at any point during the season. Then, the Cubs would have a $3 million team option for '20 (with no buyout cost), and Graveman (currently at 3.078 years of MLB service time) could technically be under team control through '21 via the arbitration process.
Looking ahead to the '20 season, the bulk of the Cubs' rotation still projects to be in place, with only lefty Cole Hamels facing free agency next winter. Veterans Jonathan Lester and Yu Darvish are locked in on guaranteed deals, while the Cubs will have a team option on Jose Quintana and arbitration cases to work out with Kyle Hendricks and Mike Montgomery. Tyler Chatwood will be in the final season of his three-year contract.
Over parts of five seasons in the Majors, Graveman has gone 23-29 with a 4.38 ERA in 83 games (78 starts), amassing 286 strikeouts against 130 walks in 446 innings. The right-hander leans heavily on a sinker, mixing in a changeup, cutter, slider and an occasional four-seam fastball.
While Graveman does not rely on strikeouts, the righty has at points ranked among baseball's best starters at generating ground balls. Across the 2015-17 seasons combined, Graveman ranked tied for 10th among all MLB starters with at least 400 innings in ground-ball rate (51.3 percent), per Fangraphs.
Graveman's best season was in 2016, when he posted a 4.11 ERA and 4.39 FIP in 186 innings (31 starts) for Oakland. Last season, the righty went 1-5 with a 7.60 ERA in seven starts -- the last of which came on May 11 -- before having surgery on his throwing arm.
The Cubs' approach with Graveman is reminiscent of last offseason, when the team inked lefty Drew Smyly to a two-year contract under similar circumstances.
Smyly was also recovering from Tommy John surgery at the time of the deal, but never made it back into an MLB game with the Cubs in 2018. Earlier this winter, Chicago traded Smyly to the Rangers, helping clear $7 million off the books so that the Cubs could better afford to pick up the $20 million team option to retain Hamels for the upcoming season.