What Jameson Taillon brings to Cubs rotation

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It might not be as sexy as Justin Verlander or Jacob deGrom, but the Cubs think they got a difference maker for their starting rotation in Jameson Taillon.

“He’s a guy we've had our eye on for a long time,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said Wednesday at the Winter Meetings. “He’s a really good starting pitcher. 

“He’s been really consistent. He's continued to get better as he's gotten healthier in his career."

Taillon and the Cubs reached a four-year, $68 million deal late Tuesday night. It’s pending a physical.

The 31-year-old was one of the top starters on the free agent market this winter and part of the second tier of arms behind the likes of Verlander and deGrom.

Taillon, who debuted with the Pirates in 2016 and spent the last four seasons with the Yankees, adds a durable veteran to the middle of the Cubs rotation. He made 32 starts in 2022, tied for a career high, and finished with a 3.91 ERA in 177 1/3 innings.

“I think he showed the promise he had,” said Hoyer of the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft who was selected between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. 

“Really good mix, good command and fantastic makeup.”

Taillon has encountered several moments of adversity in his career. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014, when he was a top Pirates prospect, and again in 2019. He missed most of that season and the entire 60-game 2020 campaign.

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He underwent surgery for testicular cancer in 2017, returning five weeks later to make 25 starts for Pittsburgh that season.

He was solid with New York the last two seasons coming off the second elbow surgery, posting a 4.08 ERA in 61 starts.

“Obviously, it was kind of a rocky road for him early on,” Hoyer said. “But since he's been healthy, I think getting with the Yankees, he's pitched really well. 

“I think there's still more in the tank.”

While no longer the power pitcher he was as a prospect, Taillon wields a six-pitch mix and throws strikes. He holds a career 2.2 walks per nine innings and ranked seventh in baseball in that category last season.

“We're excited to get him,” Hoyer said. “He’s a guy we targeted at the beginning of the offseason. 

“We had a good connection with him and our pitching guys and felt like that relationship was really strong. I'm glad he felt the same.”

The Cubs haven’t ruled out adding more starting pitching and are still talking to Drew Smyly about a reunion. For now, Taillon appears to be the most significant addition.

Starting pitching was one of their top priorities at the onset of the offseason. The Cubs' rotation was hit hard by injuries in the first half of 2022 — crushing any chances they had to compete for the postseason.

The staff was among baseball’s best after the All-Star break, finishing third in MLB in ERA over that span.

Right now, the rotation pictures includes Tallion, Marcus Stroman, Justin Steele and Kyle Hendricks, among others.

— Stroman is entering the second season of a three-year deal he signed last winter. After an up-and-down first half in part due to injury, he had a strong second half last season.

— Steele had an impressive first full season in the rotation and now has to back it up in 2023.

— Hendricks, the three-time Opening Day starter, has to prove he’s all the way back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the final three months last season.

— Hayden Wesneski is the most promising of the Cubs' rookie pitchers and impressed in four starts down the stretch last season.

— Keegan Thompson may fit in as a multi-inning relief weapon while providing rotation depth.

— Adrian Sampson earned the trust of manager David Ross and a guaranteed contract this winter and is poised to compete for a rotation spot in spring training.

“The stretches last year where we struggled, it was because we didn't have enough pitching,” Hoyer said. “And the stretches that we were a good team, we pitched well, we played good defense. 

“You can't have enough pitching, and obviously it was an aggressive pitching market here. We're really excited to get a guy (Taillon) that we targeted from the beginning.”

Contributing from San Diego: Gordon Wittenmyer

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