Cubs, Cardinals likely to duke it out over late-inning relievers

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

With the starting rotation already markedly improved from a year ago and a high-profile bat such as Carlos Correa seeming less and less likely, the Cubs are honed in on the relief pitching market. Their hands are tied as the lockout resumes and CBA negotiations crawl forward at a snail’s pace – but at some point, free agency will resume – and when it does, things are going to be hot and heavy.

Of course, they aren’t the only team in the league looking to add impact relievers – especially proven commodities to intersperse amongst their crop of young arms. But, specifically, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch  (subscription required) reports the Cardinals are looking for ‘high-leverage’ arms — “ones who could be used as a closer, but not only a closer.”

The longtime Cardinals beat writer calls out a couple of arms by name – Joe Kelly and former Cub Ryan Tepera – and MLB Trade Rumors, while recapping and expanding upon Goold’s report, lumps in the likes of Andrew Chafin and Collin McHugh as two more names that fall into that same bucket and price tag.

Obviously, we’ve talked quite a bit about the fit between Chicago and Chafin, who excelled in a key late-inning role last year before being traded to the Athletics at the trade deadline. The Cubs are sorely lacking when it comes to left-handed relievers and the southpaw made quite the impression during his brief run on the North Side.

Cubs, Cardinals both looking for more reinforcements in the bullpen

St. Louis bested the Cubs in a pursuit of left-handed starter Steven Matz earlier in the offseason, but it’s yet to be determined what he’ll look like moving forward. After all, as good as he was in 2021, we’re talking about a guy with a 4.49 FIP in his career. He’s a solid rotational depth piece, but even with St. Louis’ league-best infield defense behind him, it’s hard to envision him moving the needle any more than Wade Miley will with Chicago in 2022.

But the team – like the Cubs- has a lot of questions in the bullpen. Given both clubs are tasked with going head-to-head with Milwaukee’s three-headed rotational juggernaut and a back-end duo of Devin Williams and Josh Hader, improving pitching, on the whole, will be a priority heading into spring training.

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St. Louis’ bullpen mix certainly feels more dependable than the Cubs’ assortment. But that could quickly change. Chicago’s young relievers all have a ton of promise and ‘plus’ stuff – and now, it’s all about putting it together in a sustainable fashion at the big league level. That’s where adding veteran mentors who can guide them and also solidify the bullpen, as a whole, becomes critical.