Chicago Cubs: Evaluating the 2017 Cubs bullpen
By Erik Mauro
Strong bullpens in baseball have become a movement. As teams are starting to build around them to try and “shorten” games, how strong is the Cubs’ bullpen?
The last two years, the Chicago Cubs bullpen has been vastly underrated. It’s actually been more of a strength for the Cubs team. In 2016, the bullpen posted a 3.56 ERA, with an opponent batting average of .210. The bullpen was the fourth best unit in the National League, and the eighth-best unit in all of baseball. There are some new faces in the bullpen this year, and a majority of them will look to contribute in the Major Leagues.
The Cubs return the core of that bullpen from last year, including Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, Justin Grimm, and Carl Edwards, Jr. Strop, Grimm and Rondon have been stalwarts in the bullpen for three years now. Edwards made an impact last year, including the postseason. Rondon closed games for the Cubs for the better part of two years, before acquiring Aroldis Chapman near the trade deadline last year. As for Strop, he has quietly been one of the best relievers in baseball for quite a bit of time now.
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The Cubs made some bullpen moves this offseason. Koji Uehara, Brian Duensing, and Wade Davis are now Cubs. Uehara and Duensing signed one-year deals, while Davis came over in a trade from the Royals. Brett Anderson also signed with the Cubs, and he could be a swing man between starts and the bullpen, depending on matchups. Uehara has been very solid since coming over from Japan. In Koji’s Major League career, 387 appearances, he has posted a 2.53 ERA, a .195 opponent batting average, and 522 K’s in 437.2 innings. Uehara anchored the Red Sox bullpen during their 2013 run to a World Series title. Duensing is a veteran lefty and has some starting experience. But, he may be used as a situational lefty for the Cubs this season.
The Cubs added Caleb Smith, from the Yankees, in the rule 5 draft this offseason. They have also made trades for young starters, Eddie Butler from the Rockies, and Alec Mills from the Royals. The Cubs need young, controllable, starting pitching, and they got that with Butler and Mills. Butler was once a top 50 prospect in all of baseball, but has since fallen off, and was recently DFA’d by the Rockies. Alec Mills is a young prospect, who has performed well in the minor leagues and projects well at the Major League level. These two could make some spot starts this year, to spell the main guys, as the Cubs did at times last year as well.
Felix Pena and Rob Zastryzny are back with the Cubs this season as well, but both of them will be fighting for a roster spot in the spring. Another name to keep an eye on is Jack Leathersich. He missed the 2016 season with Tommy John surgery but is a good lefty that would work well as a LOOGY. Leathersich has seen Major League time with the Mets.
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All the pieces are there for the Cubs in the bullpen. Now, it’s just about finding out who fits where. If everybody stays healthy this year, the Cubs could be in for another strong year from the bullpen. In this day and age of baseball, the bullpen can make or break a team.