Over the course of the season, the Chicago Cubs will need to address a few areas. While it seems the team is finding its stride, the bullpen is in need of help, the rotation could use another boost after the top three and they will need to decide what to do with the overabundance of middle-infielders.
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The bullpen has been worked extremely hard thus far in the season. Too many innings too often have been a re-occurring theme. It’s a shame that we look at the bullpen as a weakness. They have suffered injuries, tough luck, but more importantly, the heavy workload has created a revolving door with new guys being sent down and called up.
The loss of Neil Ramirez really hurt the Cubs early on. Coming into the year, Ramirez was destined for a late-inning set-up role. The hard-throwing righty would have provided a devastating one-two punch with Pedro Strop setting the stage for Hector Rondon.
It doesn’t look as though the early season experiments are working. Phil Coke, who joined the Cubs from the Tigers hasn’t panned out as planned and recently found himself designated for assignment by the Cubs. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took a flyer on Jason Motte. In his second season back from Tommy John surgery, Motte has shown his velocity can be there but he has simply walked too many guys in the time he has played.
We’ve seen a lot of pitchers coming through the pen this year. Aside from Coke and Motte, the Cubs have used Justin Grimm, Edwin Jackson, Brian Schlitter, and Zac Rosscup to name a few. With the struggles that Cubs starters have had getting deep into games, its no wonder that members of the bullpen haven’t found consistent roles yet.
Looking ahead, the Cubs have options to choose from. It’s possible that the Cubs will look to free agency to help. A guy like Rafael Soriano would provide a veteran presence, but he is in his mid-thirties now and has remained unsigned during the first two months of the year. My major concern with signing him isn’t what he would provide on the field, it’s his financial value. Soriano is looking for a hefty payday and as a client of Scott Boras, I am afraid the asking price will be too high.
The bullpen is not a good place to spend large amounts of money. In general, bullpen pitchers are streaky at best. The Cubs have put themselves in great shape by being conservative with their spending. Getting into high priced, aging relief pitching could end up costing them in the long run.
Aug 22, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Ian Krol (46) delivers a pitch in the sixth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
If the Cubs choose to fill in roles from outside the organization, I’d like them to continue to be savvy with how they do it. Find players that have upside and can provide the team with some flexibility down the road. With Rosscup, Coke, and now Travis Wood, the Cubs now have used three different left-handed specialists. None of the players mentioned started the year in that role and Joe Maddon is hoping Wood can be that answer.
If given the chance, I would target a guy like Ian Krol. After opening the season with the Tigers, Krol has again found himself in AAA. Since his demotion, Krol has responded by not allowing a run over 9 innings with a 2/1 strikeout to walk ratio. His financial value is what makes him attractive. The Naperville, IL native will become arbitration eligible in 2017 and the Cubs could control his free agency until 2020. Not only is he affordable, but has the upside to go with it. Krol sports a fastball that will top the high 90’s. If he can command the curveball and consistently get lefties out, I think he would be a great pickup.
The Chicago Cubs have made great strides this season and if they hope or plan to be playing meaningful baseball in October, the bullpen must be addressed. Whatever they choose to do, let’s hope that it will fit the model that this regime has designed.