Chicago Cubs need to find a dominant left-handed reliever for 2019

(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /

If there is any need that the Chicago Cubs need to address for 2019, it’s a dominant left-handed reliever to pitch late in close ball games.

Justin Wilson, Mike Montgomery, Jaime García, Jorge De La Rosa, Brian Duensing, Randy Rosario and Drew Smyly. Those are the potential left-handed relief options for the Chicago Cubs in 2019 that spent time on the roster.

Actually, scratch that. De La Rosa and Wilson are set to hit free agency, and the Cubs have a club option on García for next season. Who the Cubs do and don’t bring back for 2019 is obviously unclear right now.

Matchup nightmare

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What is clear, though, is that this “position” (though left-handed relief is not a technically a singular position) must be addressed before next season. And specifically, they need to acquire a strong late-game lefty, one to create matchup nightmares for opponents.

Josh Hader (12 strikeouts in seven postseason innings this season) has shown the world how valuable he is to the Milwaukee Brewers. Similarly, Aroldis Chapman was obviously extremely valuable to the Cubs in the 2016 postseason.

It is unreasonable to expect the Cubs to find a pitcher of Hader and Chapman’s statures just hanging out somewhere. It is reasonable, though, to expect the Cubs to have stronger left-handed options for manager Joe Maddon in 2019.

Uncertainty due to certainty

The Cubs have uncertainty in their bullpen and their starting rotation because of their starting pitching depth. As strange as that may sound, whether or not Montgomery and Smyly start in 2019 has a direct effect on the bullpen.

It seems there is only room for one of Montgomery and Smyly (at most) in the rotation next season. Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks are rotation locks.

The Cubs have a team option on Cole Hamels‘ contract that they would be foolish not to pick up (or at the very least, working out a new deal). Yu Darvish is under contract for five more seasons; José Quintana is under contract through 2020.

These five pitchers are likely to be the five in the 2019 Opening Day starting rotation. If Montgomery and/or Smyly crack the rotation, maybe Quintana becomes trade bait.

Versatility is key

Heck, even Montgomery or Smyly could become trade bait this offseason. The overarching point here is that the Cubs have starting pitching depth that will call for some tough decisions.

If Montgomery and Smyly both wind up in the bullpen, one has to wonder if García, De La Rosa and/or Rosario will be on the 2019 Opening Day roster.

The former two pitchers are good enough to be starting pitchers. Montgomery had a 3.69 ERA in 19 starts in 2018, but he obviously has been successful with the Cubs as a reliever.

Smyly has a 3.97 ERA in 85 career starts, but he also posted a 2.37 ERA in 63 relief appearances in 2013. He has exclusively been a starter since then, but like Montgomery, he could help the bullpen.

A need that must be addressed

It also might make sense to have Smyly start the season as a reliever, as he has not pitched since 2016 after undergoing Tommy John Surgery.

No matter what happens, though, the Cubs have to acquire a late-game, left-handed reliever. Justin Wilson (3.46 ERA, 71 appearances, 54 2/3 innings) was good in 2018.

Does Wilson present a mismatch for the Cubs against elite left-handed hitting (Christian Yelich, Bryce Harper etc.)? The answer is likely no. This doesn’t mean the Cubs shouldn’t bring Wilson back.

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For 2019, though, the Cubs must find someone to pitch in those moments. Time will tell what Theo Epstein and Co. do to address this need.