Cubs: Exploring the very limited left-handed options in the bullpen

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

In the latest round of spring training roster cuts, the Chicago Cubs somewhat shockingly optioned Kyle Ryan. The southpaw had an obvious decline in his 2020 campaign after a moderately successful 2019, but he seemed like a shoo-in for the Opening Day roster as a good, soft-contact-inducing compliment to the whiff-heavy lefty Andrew Chafin.

The Cubs obviously felt that Ryan needed more time to work to get himself closer to his 2019 form, and with an already crowded bullpen, decided to use his remaining options to their advantage. While this line of thinking is understandable, it creates a dilemma in the bullpen. Chafin is almost certain to make the opening day roster, but there are very limited options for a second lefty outside of Ryan and him.

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There are currently only three true lefty relievers on the team’s 40-man roster. They are Chafin, Ryan, and Brad Wieck. If the Cubs want to have two lefties out of the bullpen, which is what they did last year and don’t want to make room on the 40-man, Wieck is now the only remaining option for the team. He had his 2020 cut short due to injury but is back with the team now.

Wieck is very similar to Chafin in that he’s more of a strikeout pitcher rather than someone who will try to get soft contact. The tall lefty has started pitching again for the Cubs this spring and has been impressive in his limited action with four strikeouts and no runs given up over his two innings of work. Wieck would be the obvious choice to replace Ryan, but he may not be ramped up enough to be there on Opening Day, and if he isn’t, will the club do?

Cubs don’t have a lot of quality among their left-handed relievers

Some other lefties on the Cubs 40-man include Brailyn Marquez and Justin Steele, but both were already optioned. This likely means that if the Cubs want two lefties, they’ll have to go with one of their non-roster invites. That list includes Rex Brothers, who spent time in the majors last year, Adam Morgan or Jerry Vasto.

That’s a rather unappealing group of arms that likely weren’t brought in as anything more than spring training depth, but they may very well find themselves competing for a spot in the bullpen. If Chicago was to pick one from that group, it’s likely that they’d pick Brothers due to his experience with Tommy Hottovy already. However, if Wieck can’t make Opening Day, it’s more likely the Cubs will roll with just Chafin as the only lefty in the bullpen.

With Shelby Miller being a very pleasant development down in spring training, Chicago will likely want to keep him around as the last man in the pen instead of a second lefty to help him keep developing his re-worked pitches. With so few players with options remaining among the relievers, it backs the Cubs into a situation where they may have to just keep seven righties and wait until one of the other lefties is ready.

The makeup of the bullpen to start the year will depend on a combination of how badly the Cubs want two lefties, Wieck’s readiness and how much they care about guys without options.

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The start of the season is fast approaching and the Cubs will soon have to make a decision on the lefties with a shallow pool of candidates to pick from.