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The Chicago Cubs hope Jonathan Holder can provide the same success that Ryan Tepera and Jason Adam did in 2020 at a thrifty price.

Holder, 27, who pitched parts of the last five seasons for the New York Yankees, agreed to a one-year, non-guaranteed contact with the Cubs on Thursday. He is 10-6 with a 4.38 ERA in 157 major-league games, averaging 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

Holder was 3-0 with a 4.98 ERA in 18 games for the Yankees last season. His ERA was inflated by eight earned runs over his final three games. Holder posted a 3.14 ERA in a career-high 60 games in 2018.

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Holder will receive $750,000 if he makes the team, according to a source.

Earlier this month, the Cubs claimed reliever Robert Stock off waivers from the Boston Red Sox.

The Cubs’ 40-man roster stands at 36.

It’s weird to be digging into a set of projections for the Chicago Cubs 2021 season before they’ve really done anything this offseason, but, hey, at some point publications have to pull the trigger. Also, it’s not actually true that the Cubs haven’t done anything yet this offseason – they’ve done a lot of subtracting! Also, reliever additions!

That is to say, I do expect the final Cubs roster to look different come Opening Day (whenever that is), but for now, you can still get a lot of insight into how the ZiPS projection system at FanGraphs is eyeing the current composition of the roster, and how it sees 2021 playing out for certain players.

It ain’t great!

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Head over to FanGraphs to see the particulars on each player, because I’m planning to just discuss the groups more generally.

A blanket caveat, I guess, is that because the NL Central figures to suuuuuuck in 2021, the Cubs don’t have to look like a behemoth to be competitive. Indeed, it kinda seems like they’re banking on that. And in the aggregate, FanGraphs sees the Cubs as more or less competitive. Is that good enough to keep the band together? Good enough to make additions? Or should the Cubs sell further from here?

Starting Rotation
An extreme version of what we say narratively, what with two very good starting pitchers at the front, and then a whole bunch of questions thereafter. Even Adbert Alzolay and Alec Mills project horribly (more than 15% worse than league average), Alzolay presumably because of the limited track record of success, and Mills presumably because of the rough peripherals. You can have reasons to be more optimistic than the system on each, but it’s a reminder that these guys are not sure things. And they’re the third and fourth starters!

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The system is not a fan of any of the Cubs’ upper-level minor league starters either, and for you to be optimistic on that front, you’d have to believe the Cubs did more than the average team in developing those guys over the lost minor league season.

Any way you slice it, you come to the same conclusion we’d already been at for a while: if the Cubs want to be competitive in 2021, they’re going to need to add a quality starting pitcher or two. Especially because we already know that the innings are going to have to be spread around to more guys this year. At least the starting pitching market is extremely deep this offseason in the buy-low, reclamation pool where the Cubs will be swimming.

Bullpen
Craig Kimbrel projects decently well, and that’s about it. But what did you expect for a positional group where the Cubs have made it an affirmative strategy not to load up on guys whose on-paper projections would necessarily look great? By way of example, Jason Adam projects as 10% worse than league average, which seems pretty reasonable when you look at his statistical body of work. But we know that he’s pretty dramatically changed his pitch mix with the Cubs, and thus have reason to suspect that the version of Adam we see in 2021 could bear very little resemblance to the guy he was before 2020, and on which most of the projections are based.

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That said, you would nevertheless like to see a lot more rosy projections for your young, upper-level arms who figure to be rotating in and out of the bullpen. A lot of those guys, plus additions like Jonathan Holder and Robert Stock, project as just around average.

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Whatever the forecasts here, though, I’m less worried about the bullpen over the course of a full season than I would’ve been four years ago if you’d shown me the group. The Cubs’ pitching system has just been very, very good at this recently.

Catchers
ZiPS is deeply unimpressed by the improvements in Willson Contreras behind the plate in 2020, which is understandable because it was a small sample … but also, we know that framing is one of those skills that can develop rapidly, and then you tend to have it until/unless there is a physical issue. I’m comfortable projecting Contreras to be much better defensively than ZiPS says (and also, frankly, much better than merely 4% better than league average offensively).

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Victor Caratini is right there where you’d expect him, below average offensively overall (but solid for a catcher), and about average defensively. There’s probably upside in the bat from here, but even at what he is right now, that’s a valuable player to have.

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