We’ve talked about the Chicago Cubs bullpen issues all winter long, but still, nothing has been done. The clock is ticking, but Theo Epstein and the Cubs front office have assured us that revamping the bullpen is their primary concern.
Over the weekend, the Chicago Cubs hosted the 34th annual Cubs Convention. Theo Epstein held his own panel to give the baseball operations update like he does every year. While fielding questions he admitted he wasn’t satisfied with the Cubs bullpen and promised that additions will be made.
"“I think the real focus for us is the bullpen,” Epstein said. “We have a lot of talent there but I don’t think right now, the bullpen is complete. I know we’re working extremely hard to try to add to it, whether it’s through trade or the right free agent sign or the right small acquisition that might pay a huge dividend.”"
The problem with upgrading the bullpen to this point has seemingly been the Cubs lack of a budget. We’ve already seen big names ink multi-million dollar contracts this winter that the Cubs were certainly interested in but just couldn’t afford.
Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia, Andrew Miller, Joe Kelly and most recently Adam Ottavino are five pitchers who have been signed for 25 million dollars or more. From there the Cubs still weren’t able to land a lower tier arm like Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria or Cody Allen, who all signed for under 20 million dollars.
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Reliever options in the free agent market
While it’s certainly much more limited now, there are still options on the free agent market that would help bolster the Cubs bullpen. There are a number of relievers that have prior experience closing games, which would be a huge bonus for the Cubs.
A.J. Ramos, Bud Norris and Brad Boxberger have all spent significant time as their team’s ninth-inning man at some point over the last few seasons. With Brandon Morrow slated to miss possibly the whole first half of the season, closing experience would be quite a luxury for the Cubs.
Another area of concern in the bullpen is the Cubs lack of left-handed options. Left-handers like Oliver Perez and Tony Sipp both had strong seasons last year and wouldn’t control a lot of money. On the year, Perez posted a 1.39 ERA while Sipp posted a 1.88 ERA.
As of now the Cubs only left-handed options are Brian Duensing, Randy Rosario and Mike Montgomery, assuming he returns to his swingman position full-time. The Cubs best left-handed reliever from last season, Justin Wilson, who is also a free agent, could be brought back for the right price as well.
Cubs could turn to the trade market for help
With how limited the Cubs budget is, the Cubs may need to make a trade to move salary in order to sign a reliever. Two rumors that swirled around this winter were trading either Jason Heyward or Ben Zobrist. Neither deal has really garnered any traction though as Heyward’s contract would be difficult to move, while Zobrist is in his last year of his contract at age 37.
The most recent rumor surrounding the Cubs was the idea of trading David Bote to the San Diego Padres. The Padres are seeking help at third base while the Cubs are in desperate need of bullpen help, which the Padres have a ton of. Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen are the two headliners out of that bullpen and would both be welcome additions to the Cubs bullpen. It could be a match made in heaven if the Cubs do in fact decide to trade Bote.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter how the bullpen improves as long as moves are actually made. Epstein certainly made it sound like a priority at the Cubs Convention and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a trick or two up his sleeve to improve the bullpen before the 2019 season.