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Three reclamation projects who would be worth the gamble for Cubs in 2021

The Cubs don’t plan to spend big in free agency, but there are a few low-risk, high-reward options who could make sense in 2021.

Washington Nationals v Pittsburgh Pirates Justin Berl/Getty Images

So far this offseason, the Cubs have shed a significant portion of salary, gotten themselves under the luxury-tax threshold and created some flexibility. But just a month from the scheduled start of spring training, they still haven’t filled their biggest needs.

The rotation will have a different look next season after the team traded Yu Darvish to the Padres, pushing Kyle Hendricks into the

No. 1 spot. Newly acquired Zach Davies, as of now, would slot behind Hendricks, with Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay penciled in at the back end.

Whether or not they start the season with their current group of pitchers, the Cubs still need depth. They aren’t looking to spend big, but several starting pitchers on the market are looking to bounce back and could save the team money in the process.

The Cubs have put a lot of trust in their pitching infrastructure and research and development department to help them unlock talent in recent years. It might be a reason they have the confidence to try to uncover some of the hidden gems in the free-agent market this year.

Here are three reclamation projects who could bounce back in the Cubs’ rotation:

Chris Archer, RHP

Archer might be the most logical reclamation project on the list. The former Cubs farmhand was considered one of the best starters in the American League a short time ago, but after being dealt by the Rays to the Pirates for Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow in a deal that favored the Rays, Archer is looking for an opportunity to show that he can still pitch.

When you look past 2013-15, Archer’s numbers from 2016-19 are mostly average. But taking a more in-depth look, they might tell a different story. Archer’s fielding independent pitching (FIP) has only topped 3.82 one time in his career, and that was his frustrating 2019 season.

While the thoracic outlet syndrome surgery that caused Archer to miss the entire 2020 season is a concern, it also could have been a reason behind some of his struggles in 2019. The 32-year-old right-hander’s peripherals show a pitcher who isn’t that far off from being what he was. If there’s a pitcher worth taking a gamble on in this free-agent market, Archer might be the guy.

Mike Foltynewicz, RHP

The last two seasons have been a roller coaster for Foltynewicz. After slowly finding his way with the Braves, he finally broke out in 2018. He wasn’t only the team’s best pitcher, but one of the best young starters in the National League. After his All-Star season, though, things began to spiral for the Minooka, Illinois, native.

In 2019, Foltynewicz allowed at least three runs in his first 11 starts before the Braves sent him back to the minors. Things didn’t get better for the 29-year-old right-hander last season, when he made just one start.

Foltynewicz is the type of pitcher who could benefit from the Cubs’ R&D staff. When he’s on, he has ace stuff, but there might be a mechanical issue that needs to be worked out. His average fastball dropped from 94.8 mph in 2019 to 90.9 in ’20. If he gets his repertoire back, the Cubs could provide him with an opportunity to start and get his career back on track.

Carlos Rodon, LHP

Rodon once was thought to be one of the faces of the White Sox’ rebuild, but after inconsistency and an inability to stay healthy, those days are long gone. The Sox non-tendered the 2014 No. 3 overall pick this offseason, but the Cubs could be the perfect situation for the left-hander.

There’s a lot for Rodon to prove going into 2021. Can he stay healthy and tap into the potential that made him a first-round pick? Pitching out of the bullpen was clearly not how Rodon wanted to end his tenure on the South Side, but pitching just a few miles north of Guaranteed Rate Field might be the edge he needs to put it all together.

For the Cubs, Rodon would be a low-risk, high-reward signing. He wouldn’t just give them a left-handed starter, which they don’t have, but a left-hander with plus stuff when he’s healthy.

Best-case scenario: Rodon pitches to his potential and shows he can be in the team’s plans going forward. Worst-case scenario: He’ll be a left-handed Tyler Chatwood.