Somewhat miraculously, the Chicago Cubs front office was able to deal former closer Carlos Marmol at the season’s midpoint, ending what fans had not-so-affectionately designated as the Marmolcoaster.
The ups, downs and all-arounds that accompanied the right-hander’s ninth-inning appearances were the stuff of nightmares. Walks, hit batsmen and wild pitches were about as common as a hot dog and beer at the Friendly Confines, which is saying something.
In early July, Chicago dealt Marmol, along with the #4 international signing bonus slot to Los Angeles in exchange for reliever Matt Guerrier, who had been designated for assignment earlier that week by the Dodgers. As part of the deal, the Cubs were on the hook for just $500,000 of the roughly $5,000,000 owed to Marmol.
Simultaneously, the Cubs’ front office dealt starter Scott Feldman, who had been one of the team’s most consistent arms during the season, to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for a pair of pitchers: former top prospect Jake Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop. Shortly thereafter, Strop found a home in the tail end of the Cubs bullpen, often setting up games in tandem with James Russell for closer Kevin Gregg.
With Gregg’s contract set to expire and very high odds the Cubs don’t bring the veteran back in 2014, it’s only logical that Strop is the next in line to take over the ninth inning – an area that has plagued the Cubs off and on for the past three seasons.
At first glance this proposition seems mad. Between Baltimore and Chicago this season, Strop appeared in 66 games, going 2-5 with a 4.55 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. These numbers are far too high to be considered a promising candidate as a big league closer. That being said, following the trade to Chicago, he improved his numbers across the board, going 2-2 in 37 appearances in which he amassed a 2.83 earned run average – roughly five runs lower than his mark in Baltimore – and lowered his WHIP to 0.943 in the process.
Strop showed that he has a high ceiling during his time in Chicago, and moving forward, there’s no reason to think he’s not the leading man moving forward for the Cubs. In dealing Feldman, Chicago acquired not only Strop – who could establish himself as a premier back-end man next season, but Jake Arrieta, who put together an impressive stretch in Chicago before being shut down as a precaution at the end of the season.
A bounce back year from lefty James Russell and a full season with Pedro Strop at the tail end of the Chicago bullpen would be a major step forward for a club that went just 5-12 in tied games after eight innings. This year’s bullpen also blew 26 saves, the third-highest total in all of Major League Baseball.
Quality starts can be tossed out the window if a team has a spotty bullpen. Pedro Strop could answer a lot of problems next season with a strong performance.