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What the Cubs’ rotation looks like after landing Shota Imanaga

With the Japanese lefty headed to the North Side, we break down how Chicago’s rotation now looks heading into 2024.

Japan starting pitcher Shota Imanaga delivers a pitch during the first inning against USA at LoanDepot Park. Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Less than two days before his posting deadline, Shota Imanaga finally has a Major League home: The Japanese lefty is reportedly headed to the Chicago Cubs. (We don’t yet know the exact terms of the deal, but Jon Morosi reports that it’s for multiple years and will come in around $15 million annually.)

It’s a big get for Chicago, who’d gotten off to a worryingly sleepy start to an offseason that began with very high expectations. The Cubs were at least one pitcher short, and in Imanaga they’ve landed a pitcher with a proven track record of stardom in Japan — across eight seasons, the lefty pitched to a 2.96 ERA with two All-Star appearances — and a deep arsenal of pitches that should allow him to more than hold his own against Major League lineups.

But now that Imanaga will officially call the North Side home, just how does this Cubs rotation stack up? Have last year’s problems been solved, or is there more work to be done? Let’s take a look at where things stand, and where Jed Hoyer and Co. might still be looking to add ahead of what they hope is a division title run in the wide open NL Central.

Cubs projected rotation after Shota Imanaga signing

A lot can still change between now and Opening Day, but here’s how the Cubs’ top five currently lines up.

1. Justin Steele
2. Shota Imanaga
3. Kyle Hendricks
4. Jameson Taillon
5. Javier Assad/Jordan Wicks

Slotting Imanaga behind Steele makes a meaningful difference. Previously, the Cubs would be relying on Taillon, Assad, Wicks, Hayden Wesneski and a collection of other promising but unproven youngsters to carry the bulk of the team’s innings. Steele looks like a star, but he’s only one man, and for as reliable as Hendricks has been he just turned 34 and has major shoulder surgery in his recent past. Chicago needed innings, preferably with a bit more upside than your typical back-end starter.

Imanaga fits that description to a tee. Sure, the 30-year-old doesn’t have Yamamoto’s — or even Snell’s — upside. But his success in Japan and his varied arsenal allows him to attack and earn swings and misses against both righties and lefties. His durability is an open question, standing just 5’10, 176 pounds and having never thrown more than 170 innings in a season while on Japan’s every-sixth-day pitching schedule. But the other available options had red flags of their own, and would likely come with a significantly higher commitment in terms of years and dollars. Imanaga is a clear step up from second-tier options like Marcus Stroman, and even if his stuff can’t quite overpower Major League batters and he winds up as something closer to a No. 4/5 starter, well, $15 million is about the going rate for those these days.

Chicago will likely add at least one more depth arm before the start of spring training, but that should be it. Imanaga was probably the best option for the team to meaningfully upgrade its rotation while also retaining the financial flexibility to, say, bring back Cody Bellinger. This now looks like a full, above-average big league rotation, one with enough depth and upside to withstand a long summer.