With second-year reliever Brandon Hughes struggling to stay healthy during the 2023 season, the Chicago Cubs were left without a true left-handed relief option in their bullpen.
The success of veteran reliever Mark Leiter Jr's reverse splits could only take the team so far when pressed for an option to get left-handed hitters out late in games and that seems to be an area that the Cubs will address this off-season.
We know that Jed Hoyer traveled to Japan during the final month of the Major League Baseball regular season to personally scout some of the Japanese free agents to be this winter and the team has already been connected to left-handed reliever Yuki Matsui.
In a more direct connection, Bruce Levine of 670 The Score reported during his Saturday morning radio show, Inside The Clubhouse, that Matsui is a name that is being heard associated with the Cubs this off-season.
For a Cubs' front office that is usually against a heavy investment in relief pitchers, there is no doubt that the team can not take the same approach they took last off-season. The Cubs tried to piece together a bullpen by banking on their success of churning veteran relievers into effective late-inning options. Still, an injury to Brad Boxberger at the start of the season and ineffectiveness from Michael Fulmer during the first month of the season exposed the flaws of that philosophy.
Fortunately, for the Cubs, Adbert Alzolay was able to cover up many of the shortcomings of the Cubs' bullpen towards the end of the season but a forearm strain at the end of the season showed how thin the team is in terms of effective late-inning relievers.
The fortunate thing for the Cubs is that if there were to be an off-season where the team wanted to go against their strategy and spend on a relief pitcher, this would be the winter to do it as the team has close to $100MM in available payroll flexibility before reaching the first threshold of the luxury tax.