Chicago Cubs should turn to Tyler Chatwood in the late innings

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs should lean heavily on Tyler Chatwood in the late innings this season, given the team’s inability and unwillingness to add relievers.

While the Cubs look likely to bring back largely the same position player core in 2020, the pitching staff handed to first-year manager David Ross and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy suffered significant losses since the end of last season.

Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek and Brandon Kintzler all departed via free agency, along with left-handed starter Cole Hamels. Hamels inked a deal with Atlanta, while Cishek joined the crosstown White Sox. To this point, both Strop and Kintzler are still available – but with the Cubs’ focus on getting under the competitive balance tax threshold, it’s a long shot either returns on anything but a minor league pact.

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Given those losses, here’s how the bullpen picture looks heading into mid-January. Craig Kimbrel will look to bounce back after a disappointing 2019 debut. The potential Hall of Fame closer struggled last summer – but with two years left on his deal (as well as an option year), Chicago has to hope for more.

Rowan Wick was impressive in his first season on the North Side – and projects as the go-to right-hander in the pen. He worked to a 2.82 FIP across 33 1/3 innings, but struggled at times with his control.

Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck are the left-handed holdovers from last year’s club. The Cubs avoided arbitration with the former, who made 73 appearances a year ago. Meanwhile, Wieck figured something out after coming to Chicago and he’ll look to build on that progress in 2020.

There stands to be a good deal of competition as Ross looks to round out his pen. Guys like Jharel Cotton, Dan Winkler, Ryan Tepera and Colin Rea look like logical picks from the right side. CD Pelham and Justin Steele account for the rest of the southpaw depth on the roster. What it comes down to is this the Cubs are going to need some fairly unproven guys step up if this team is going to have success.

One other arm who could get the team much closer to that goal? Tyler Chatwood. The right-hander rebounded after a dismal 2018 debut campaign, serving in a hybrid role last season. As a starter, he took the ball five times to the tune of a 3.97 ERA, making some much-needed starts with little to no advance notice.

In the bullpen, he ate up 54 innings, filling the role formerly held by Mike Montgomery. Having that type of versatile arm in the mix is critical – but given Chatwood’s stuff, he might make more sense as a late-inning weapon for Ross.

Chicago has other options to fill the final spot in the starting rotation. Adbert Alzolay and Duane Underwood could conceivably get a chance this spring if Chatwood goes to the pen. Rea can’t be ruled out, either, after earning Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year honors last year.

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No matter what role he plays in 2020, make no mistake. Tyler Chatwood – and what he does for the Cubs in 2020 – will go a long way in determining whether or not the team has success this year.