Despite the worst-case scenario so far, The Chicago Cubs bullpen was built the right way.
The Chicago Cubs seem to have mostly everything clicking so far in 2020 under David Ross. The defense has become much cleaner; the offense has found some stability and the starting pitching has been lights out. The only issue so far has been the bullpen.
Many question Theo Epstein and the way he constructed this pen, but it was done the right way. Going in, the risk was known, and unfortunately, this team has just experienced the worst-case scenario so far with their signings.
The Cubs currently hold the third-worst bullpen ERA in baseball at 7.30, only ahead of the Phillies and Reds. Craig Kimbrel has been a nightmare, posting an 8.49 ERA since signing his big three-year, $43 million deal in the middle of 2019. Rowan Wick and Jeremy Jeffress have been the two bright spots out this bullpen, as they are the only two Cub relievers that have not given up a run yet this year.
Despite the messy performance, Epstein built this bullpen the right way, The Cubs lacked a closer midway through the 2019 season, and he answered the call by bringing in the big name to bolster the bullpen. It was the sexy name at the time, as Kimbrel has posted a career ERA of 2.19 through 11 MLB seasons and is known for being one of the most dominant closers in the game.
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Giving the lefties Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck deals after strong 2019’s, (3.54 ERA through 73 games for Ryan and a 3.60 ERA through 14 games since being acquired for Wieck) were well deserved and give this bullpen two robust options from the left side late in games.
Rowan Wick is the youngster that has arguably the highest ceiling in this bullpen. After posting a 2.43 ERA in 2019, Wick showed he has the stuff to be dominant. Making him a core piece around veterans puts him in the ideal position to succeed.
Filling this bullpen in with one-year deals was about the only thing Epstein could have done and the moves he made weren’t necessarily bad; they just haven’t panned out so far besides Jeffress. The one year deal is arguably the most motivating contract in all of sports. Guys that need to prove they still have what it takes to be in the MLB and having one year of security to show that is normally enough to light a fire under that particular player.
Jeffress is the perfect example. After an All-Star season in 2018 with the Brewers, he followed it up with 2019, where he posted a 5.02 ERA, leading to a breakup with Milwaukee. The Cubs are giving Jeffress a chance to show he can be that 2018 version of himself, and he’s thrown six scoreless innings to start his career in Chicago. If guys like Ryan Tepera, Dan Winkler and Jharel Cotton (other one year deals in the bullpen) can show that same spark, this 2020 bullpen could have a whole new narrative around it.
The latest acquisition by Epstein has been Kelvin Herrera. He fits the mold of the complexion of this bullpen has a former All-Star in 2015 and 2016, We will see if he can find his old form as the Cubs take a chance.
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With the financial situation the Cubs have, Epstein has built this bullpen the right way. Get the big-name closer, sign guys who proved themselves in 2019, add low-risk, high-reward arms to fill in, and put your young star in position to be the guy. Things haven’t panned out yet for this group, but the complexion is there if they can get their heads on straight.