Chicago Cubs: Decisions in the bullpen loom for front office


Decisions ahead for the Cubs regarding bullpen free agents

With the offseason already in full swing for the Chicago Cubs, there are many different tasks that the front office will have to deal with in the coming weeks. The talks of the Cubs signing a big name free agent pitcher aren’t going to fade, but some of the key questions will rally around who to keep? And nowhere is that a bigger concern than the bullpen.

Throughout the 2015 season, the Cubs bullpen was a point of pride (and occasionally a spot of pain), but overall it fared very well as the Cubs had the fourth best bullpen in the National League with a 3.38 ERA. Their 37 wins in relief were tops in the league as well. With a few constants like Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon, the bullpen will be strong entering next season. But who will be the other role players like the Cubs had this year? Who will be next year’s Jason Motte? It might not be Motte.

The Cubs have several pitchers entering free agency this winter in Trevor Cahill, Tommy Hunter, Fernando Rodney and Motte. Will any of them return for next season? Cahill seemed to find new life with the Cubs. He pitched to the tune of a 2.12 ERA in 17 innings after struggling in Atlanta (0-3, 7.52, 26 1 /3 IP). The Cubs would be taking a chance that his stretch in Chicago wasn’t just a “hot streak” compared to his numbers in recent years. Although it’s possible the team could try to ink Cahill to a one-year deal at near league minimum. Cahill was almost out of baseball. He’d be likely to take that deal.

Hunter came over in a low-risk trade that sent Junior Lake to the Orioles at the trade deadline. He got his chance early on as Maddon was looking for someone to help solidify late inning situations. But Hunter failed to lock down a spot, and as the season wore down he found himself getting fewer opportunities. He was a last-minute deal by Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein to shore up the bullpen but doesn’t appear to be part of the future.

Motte may be the most intriguing of the group. He didn’t reach the 2012 form he had in St. Louis, but it was clear that he was getting stronger as the season progressed while also filling several different roles out of the Cubs pen. When Addison Russell went down with the hamstring injury, Motte–rehabbing from shoulder inflammation–was a possibility to replace him on the NLCS roster. But the Cubs opted to keep an extra position player instead.

If healthy, Motte–along with Neil Ramirez–gives the Cubs options at the back-end of the bullpen should issues arise next season. Fernando Rodney is another that will be a free agent, and could also be a failsafe for the closer’s role.

One thing that is certain, they don’t have pitchers beating down the door out of the farm system like they do position players. The Cubs could apply the tried and true application of safety in numbers entering Spring Training, calling in every available arm and see who sticks–but that could be a risky proposition. There are still some quality arms in the bullpen, but you can never have enough.

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