Left-handed reliever Xavier Cedeno will not be ready by Opening Day. What does that mean for the projected makeup of the Chicago Cubs bullpen?
Despite not ever really getting involved with the likes of Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, the Chicago Cubs still had some major areas of focus this offseason – namely, a bullpen that lost several key pieces, including Justin Wilson, Jesse Chavez and Jorge De La Rosa.
Chavez and De La Rosa came over via midseason acquisition. Wilson, meanwhile, rebounded from a lackluster 2017 showing and become more of a staple from the left side for manager Joe Maddon. But with Wilson departing to the New York Mets via free agency, Theo Epstein was tasked with replacing him and shoring up the depth in a bullpen that ranked fifth in baseball in innings pitched last year.
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One of the bigger names added to the mix? Xavier Cedeno, a southpaw who pitched to a 1.26 WHIP and 2.43 ERA in 48 appearances split between the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers in 2018. But, at least out of the gate, the lefty won’t factor into the mix due to a sprained left wrist that still has him more than a week from picking up a baseball.
The Cubs’ two other primary offseason additions to the pen, Tony Barnette and Brad Brach, both throw from the right side – so they do little to address the team’s lack of impact southpaws. Neither has fared particularly well against left-handed hitters in their respective careers, so we’re forced to pivot to familiar faces instead.
That means we’re looking at the likes of Brian Duensing, Mike Montgomery, Randy Rosario and Kyle Ryan. Montgomery seems like more a swingman than a late-inning lefty given how he’s been used in recent years, so I don’t anticipate seeing him getting a lot of eighth-inning outs. Then again, if Tyler Chatwood really does have his command issue under control, he could, at least in theory, fill that swingman role and let Maddon use Montgomery however he needs on a daily basis.
Duensing, who turned heads two years ago, posted a -1.5 WAR last season – the first year of a two-year deal he earned following the 2017 campaign. That year, the veteran made 68 appearances out of the Chicago bullpen, posting a personal-best 2.74 ERA and career-high 8.8 K/9. Suffice to say, he failed to replicate that success in any way last season and no one really seems sure what to expect from him moving forward.
Randy Rosario picked up some substantive big league experience last summer, emerging as a favorite of Maddon late in ball games. He made 44 appearances in his first Major League campaign, managing a respectable 3.66 ERA in the process. But some peripherals, including a 4.68 FIP, 9.1 H/9 and 1.36 SO/BB ratio leave some wondering if he has what it takes to lock down a late-inning role in Chicago.
Really, no one offers what Cedeno, at least on paper, brings to the table in either performance or experience. Montgomery seems like the best fit, but it’s unlikely we see his role shift dramatically given the value he’s brought to the club as a long man. These guys are capable of holding down the fort for a few weeks early, but getting Xavier Cedeno back in the mix in April will be key in the Cubs getting off to a strong start.