Hindsight is always 20/20. The Chicago Cubs didn’t add any significant pieces to the bullpen, instead relying on depth. With the pen struggling in Spring Training, is it too late to get that big name?
This winter, it quickly became clear that the Chicago Cubs weren’t going to open the pocketbook up for free agency. The Cubs signed Daniel Descalso, really the only name of note that most fans will recognize on offense. In the bullpen, they opted for depth, with Brad Brach being the most notable. The team signed players like Kendall Graveman–who will likely miss the entire season recovering from Tommy John—Tony Barnette and Xavier Cedeno.
The issue with the last two? Both might miss Opening Day with injuries. Neither likely to linger, but not a good start. So would the Cubs have been better to sign a guy, like Craig Kimbrel, instead of piecemealing the bullpen together? It’s always possible that a bigger name could have gotten injured just as easily as anyone else. But is it because we didn’t sign a more prominent name this winter, or because of the bullpen’s spring performance?
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Spring Training numbers can be looked at in several different ways. Pitchers may be working on a secondary pitch that they would throw as often, and they’ll take a beating when they do. Some throw fastballs (Looking at you, Edwin Jackson) and that can turn bad quickly. But the spring is the time to work on these things. So the Cubs 5.04 bullpen ERA can be deceiving. Add to that the number of pitchers that won’t even sniff the majors this year, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
But as a whole, the names that will fill the Cubs bullpen on Opening Day have fared well this spring. Steve Cishek hasn’t allowed a run. Tyler Chatwood got lit up when he started. But out of the pen, he’s pitched 8 2/3 innings with a 0.00 ERA. Carl Edwards and Brad Brach have been efficient, and while Dillon Maples isn’t likely to make the team out of camp, he’s struck out 12 in 6 1/3 innings with a 2.84 ERA. Pedro Strop is the only one to struggle, and people are quick to point that out. These are also the same ones that don’t realize he’s been one of the best relievers in Cubs history.
With Brandon Morrow to miss the start of the season, and Strop to be limited, there’s panic amongst the fans. The Chicago Cubs had always managed to ‘find’ a closer when they needed one. The duration they hold that position varies, but Carlos Marmol and Hector Rondon fit in that category. Maples could be that guy this year. Edwards has had the talk surround him for several seasons. Will his new delivery set him up for success?
I’ve seen on message boards how this bullpen has been ‘terrible’ this spring. I’ve mentioned it’s a deep bullpen, as have several other writers on staff. Injuries happen, and you have to have the bodies to survive a 162 game season. But this pen has been anything but terrible. The names that are going to matter have pitched well. This desire to sign Kimbrel doesn’t make much sense.
If the Cubs didn’t have anyone that could handle the role, I’d understand. And I think one of the other factors is that many of these pitchers are going to division rivals (Kimbrel could be included.) As the Cubs miss out on these relievers–and also have to watch them go to their rivals? That makes fans angry. If Kimbrel goes to the Milwaukee Brewers for a ‘dirt cheap’ contract, that will leave me concerned. But if he gets anywhere near his asking AAV? I won’t be upset if the Brewers pay up.
The Chicago Cubs not signing a ‘relevant’ name from the free agent boards doesn’t mean they missed. They still have the depth and several talented relievers on the staff. We need to stop with this argument that the bullpen will suffer because of it. Did anyone think Jesse Chavez was going to do what he did last season? No, and stop lying if you said yes. This bullpen has the arms to get it done this season.