However, by moving around current relievers, the Cubs may avoid giving up prospects or top-dollar to fill the ninth.
Replacing a closer as good as Davis was in 2017 is no easy task. The right-hander set a Cubs’ record of 32 consecutive saves and his ERA was just 2.30. Re-signing Davis is a possibility, but it wouldn’t be cheap. The Cubs will have to add to their bullpen before the 2018 season begins. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll go after a closer, however.
If the Cubs decide to wait for the season before making a move for a stopper, they may find such an acquisition to be unnecessary.
The likely candidates
When the Cubs traded for Justin Wilson at the 2017 deadline, they likely did so in the hope that he would slide into the closer role following the 2017 season. Unfortunately for the Cubs, Wilson’s move to Chicago did not go well. In 23 appearances for the Cubs, Wilson posted a 5.09 ERA. That lies in stark contrast to his 2.68 ERA and 13 saves in 42 appearances for the Tigers.
Wilson’s command fell apart when he joined the Cubs. He averaged 9.7 walks per nine innings pitched. If Wilson can play for the Cubs in 2018 like he did for the Tigers in 2017, he’ll certainly be a key part of the Cubs’ bullpen and possibly the Cubs’ closer.
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Carl Edwards Jr. may be an option to close for the Cubs in 2018. His incredible first half of 2017 was largely overshadowed by Wade Davis. Edwards’ first–half ERA was just 2.29 and included an April ERA of 0.00 and 1.80 in May. In the second half, Edwards put up a less jaw-dropping, but still respectable, 3.77 mark.
Hector Rondon has been the Cubs closer before. Rondon had a 2.42 ERA in 2014 with 29 saves. In 2015, Rondon put up a 1.67 ERA and saved 30 games for the Cubs. Rondon put together a strong first half in 2016. He had a 1.72 ERA with 14 saves in 32 games. After Aroldis Chapman joined the Cubs and took over as closer, Rondon posted a 6.41 ERA in the second half.
Rondon inarguably has the ability to be a lights-out closer; he’s done it before. But because of struggles in recent years, it’s hard to imagine Rondon will be the guy the Cubs trust to protect leads in the ninth.
How Jim Hickey fits in
The Cubs hired pitching coach Jim Hickey to replace Chris Bosio going in to the 2018 season. Hickey, who worked with Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay, will assume responsibility of correcting the issues that plagued the bullpen in 2017.
It’s unclear exactly why the Cubs fired Bosio, but it could stand to help the bullpen find consistency. A new coach could help a guy like Wilson hit the reset button on his Cubs’ tenure. Both Edwards and Rondon have never known another MLB pitching coach so Hickey might be able to see something that Bosio missed.
The Cubs could be wise to give Hickey the chance to develop a closer internally before spending cash or assets on one in the market. Elite closers aren’t cheap and if something doesn’t develop internally, an in-season trade would still be an option.