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Chicago Cubs: How the bullpen evolves with Wade Davis at closer

Oct 2, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis (17) delivers a pitch against the Cleveland Indians in the ninth inning at Kauffman Stadium.The Indians won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 2, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis (17) delivers a pitch against the Cleveland Indians in the ninth inning at Kauffman Stadium.The Indians won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Chicago Cubs didn’t spend big–at least yet–but they still made some noise at the Winter Meetings. The trade for the Royals’ Wade Davis strengthens and deepens their bullpen. And quite possibly has made it better than last year.

Earlier in the week, I wrote a piece that I thought it would be a poor decision for the Chicago Cubs to spend big money to sign a closer. I had no issues with a trade, but also thought that Hector Rondon could retake the role he handed over to Aroldis Chapman at the trade deadline. This deal that sends Jorge Soler to the Royals works for both teams–even if it might be for just a year.

The Royals had a conundrum. Many of their top players will be free agents next season and would be pricey to think they could sign them all. By trading Davis for Soler, the Cubs get their closer and the Royals get a player under team control for several years. And the Cubs could very well afford to sign Davis next season if they choose. Although I would still be against that move, but less against it if it’s for just a season or two.

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The Cubs went after Davis for several reasons. First, in the last three years, he’s been one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. Since 2014, he’s posted a 1.18 ERA while allowing just THREE home runs in that entire time. He’s 47/53 in save opportunities in that time, and his stuff can be downright nasty. His WHIP in that span is 0.89 and has a K/9 of 11.5.

Once again, their’s that familiarity. The Cubs front office has made a habit of bringing in players they have knowledge of. That goes for guys from Boston and San Diego all the way to Tampa Bay and Joe Maddon‘s time there. When you find people you are comfortable with, you want to keep them around you. It doesn’t hurt when they’re an All-Star, but the application of this applies still to baseball.

The Cubs’ bullpen will have a bit of an evolution as they move towards 2017. It feels as if they’ll move away from the Travis Wood‘s and Trevor Cahill‘s of baseball—the former starters–going more for pitchers that still have minor-league options. And with Davis, the Cubs could very well have four pitchers that are capable of closing a game in a pinch. He as well as Rondon, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards could all fill in if necessary. But what this will also do is lessen the burden on one man at the back of that pen.

We saw the toll it took, not just on Chapman in the playoffs but others throughout the year.  Wood had his bad stretch. Strop and Rondon, too. But they all averaged out for solid seasons by each. But the goal here is to have a rested bullpen that Maddon can have faith in for the playoffs. The Cubs won it this year, but that apprehension by Maddon with the bullpen could have very well been the downfall story if they lost. But that’s not a story we’ll have to tell this year.

So the opening in the Cubs’ pen will be very few. As of now, you would have Davis, Strop, Rondon, Edwards, Justin Grimm and the newly acquired Brian Duensing in the pen. If they carry 12 relievers that leaves just one opening. Now, that could change. And could vary by time of year. Rob Zastryzny made his mark last season and could have the upper hand. But guys like Jack Leatherisch, Pierce Johnson and any non-roster invitee could have their say before all is said and done.

I’ve left Mike Montgomery off this list because I do feel he has the inside track on the No. 5 starter spot. But should the Cubs make another move for a starter, that could change things in the bullpen. Leaving Montgomery out there wouldn’t hurt them, especially if they get a quality young arm to slide into the rotation.

Next: Is Davis another rental player trade?

We haven’t even got out of the winter meetings yet, but the Cubs look to be improving on what was already a superb team. The wheels will continue to turn for the last day as teams looks to find a way to knock the Cubs from the top.

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