The Cubs are finally firing on all cylinders. The bats have finally been picking up steam ever since a morale-based boost was released, players who had been struggling such as Zach Davies have been turning in better performances and Craig Kimbrel has continued to be a lockdown closer. Even with loads of injuries, the Cubs have things moving in the right direction after a dreadful start to the year.
Not everything has been picture-perfect, however. The Cubs have lost Ian Happ, Nico Hoerner, Jake Arrieta, and various others to the IL and the depth of the team has been tested. The Cubs also still have Bote, Heyward, and Pederson with their numbers down across the board, and their starters are still prone to blowup innings that can derail entire games for the team.
One issue that’s flown relatively under-the-radar is the bullpen. Outside of Kimbrel, no reliever has been truly lockdown. Andrew Chafin has probably been the closest to Kimbrel’s level, as he has been a whiff machine and his Baseball Savant numbers show he hasn’t been a flash-in-the-pan, but he hasn’t his share of blowup outings. Justin Steele has also been rock-solid for the most part, but he’s only been up for “a cup of coffee” and it’ll take more outings to see if he can truly be relied upon as a high-leverage option.
The Cubs’ May 7 game against the Pirates was indicative that the bullpen may need some reinforcement as the ninth inning unmasked some of the flaws within the unit. With Kimbrel down after pitching in five of the team’s last eight games, David Ross had to cobble together a combination of Chafin-Tepera-Brothers to just barely save the 3-2 victory. The trio gave up a pair of runs and just scraped by with the win, leaving the bases loaded to end the game.
Rex Brothers and Ryan Tepera have been two of the more inconsistent relievers on the team, and they’ve had to be trusted with high-leverage spots on more than one occasion. The Cubs would be better served to get a reliever that could give them more consistent outings in big spots. Luckily, there are two arms on the market that could be had for cheap, and each having closing experience that makes them no strangers to big moments.
Cubs could use more depth in Jeremy Jeffress and Shane Greeene
Jeremy Jeffress and Shane Greene are both coming off very successful seasons as high-leverage relievers and both could step into the Cubs bullpen and be valuable setup men for Kimbrel. Neither one is likely to draw a big contract this far into the season so the club wouldn’t be taking a big risk with either.
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Jeffress is an old friend of the team, so he’d fit right back in with the Cubs. The right-hander also had one of the best years of his career last season, taking the closer role from a struggling Kimbrel and was more than serviceable in the ninth. Jeffress had a 1.54 ERA with eight saves and three holds over 22 games during the shortened 2020 season.
Jeffress originally signed with the Nationals before spring training but was released amidst a strange situation with his former agent. This has likely scared some teams out of signing Jeffress but with his familiarity with the Cubs already, and former teammates coming to Jeffress’ defense, the Cubs should feel just fine about a reunion with the righty.
The other option the Cubs should look at is Greene. He pitched in 28 games in 2020 as one of the Braves’ setup men, and picked up nine holds along the way. The longtime Tigers closer had the lowest strikeout rate of his career but had a fantastic HR/9 of just 0.7. He was also very effective at getting softer contact and pitched to the tune of a 2.60 ERA.
The veteran is starting to draw interest from teams, so the Cubs may have to move quickly to get him, but they’d be wise to do so. Greene has loads of experience in big spots and could be an effective fill-in closer whenever Kimbrel is down.
The Cubs are playing better, but still have some holes to patch up before they can even begin to think about competing for a World Series. Solidifying the back end of the bullpen should be something close to the top of the list for Jed Hoyer. Luckily for Chicago, there are two effective, late-inning relievers still sitting on the open market, and either one would be a welcome addition to a shaky bullpen.