Chicago Cubs should target a pair of Astros relievers

(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

After struggling in high-leverage spots, the Chicago Cubs will undoubtedly look to reload their bullpen this winter as they look to compete again in 2020.

Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek and Brandon Kintzler are all unrestricted free agents, and the Chicago Cubs possess a number of options on the likes of Brandon Morrow, Derek Holland, Tony Barnette and Kendall Graveman, amongst others.

Given the volatile nature of relievers and bullpen units, it is safe to say that Theo Epstein seems quite likely to shake things up this winter.

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Guys like Rowan Wick, Brad Wieck and Duane Underwood Jr. showed that they could be major contributors at the big-league level, and of course Craig Kimbrel will return as the team’s closer. But the Cubs are going to have to pursue some upgrades in the bullpen this winter.

Fortunately, a pair of veteran studs from the Houston Astros could be available if the franchise is priced out in their pursuit to re-sign Gerrit Cole.

Harris and Smith fit the mold

For all of the talk surrounding the New York Yankees bullpen during the ALCS, the Astros have proven that their relief corps is equally as effective.

Two of the most important relievers in Houston’s bullpen–right-handers Will Harris and Joe Smith–will both be free agents this winter, and the Cubs should pounce at the opportunity to sign them if they are readily available.

Harris ranked second in ERA (1.50) in 60 innings of work. He also pounds opposing hitters into the ground, with a ground ball rate close to 55 percent.  He can throw the cutter to righties and lefties, and his curveball is a premier wipeout pitch.

Smith actually pitched for the Cubs in 2016, though he did not make the postseason roster. A finesse pitcher, Smith can dot his slider at the bottom of the zone – as he has shown Aaron Judge numerous times in the ALCS – and he complements that pitch with a sinker that runs in on right-handers and away from lefties.

Not only have Harris and Smith been effective as relievers, but they also seem to fit the mold of what Epstein generally looks for in his bullpen: veteran guys that are willing to accept one- or two-year deals.

Numbers game

The question becomes: how much would the Cubs have to pay?

Smith made $8 million this season, but he will be 36 in March and missed time due to injury this season. It would be hard to fathom him earning higher than $8 million in terms of AAV. Harris will be looking for a raise from the $4.2 million he received in arbitration last season, but he will also be 36 next summer.

The Cubs are going to have more payroll flexibility this offseason, and there will be a lot of decisions about the makeup of the roster. But the potential of adding a pair of extremely effective relievers on relatively cheap, short-term deals should be tantalizing.

Three realistic targets in free agency. dark. Next

Houston is unlikely to re-sign both Harris and Smith if they re-sign Cole. After all, George Springer will be a free agent after 2020, and Carlos Correa will follow him after 2021. There is no reason that the Cubs should not make a push to sign Harris or Smith, if not both.