Crowded pitching picture could impact how the Cubs build a bullpen

Taking a look at next season and envisioning what the Chicago Cubs' bullpen will look like. The front office has its work cut out for them.

Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs
Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

After a gut-wrenching finish to the season that saw the Chicago Cubs narrowly miss the postseason, all eyes in Chicago now turn to the front office and precisely what it will do to improve this roster moving forward. Already, we've seen rumors suggesting the Cubs will look to spend this winter and even bigger suggestions that the team will be looking to swim in the deep end of the trade pool with rumored pursuits of Pete Alonso and Juan Soto. But what other areas can the club improve?

Cubs could head into 2024 season with tremendous pitching depth

With the Cubs more than likely adding a starting pitcher to the rotation this winter, you start to take notice that because of how much depth there is in the rotation, by default, the bullpen spots are filling just as fast. As worn down as the bullpen was in the season's latter stages, the front office must add durable, high-leverage arms. However, with an overload of depth already on the major league roster, it will be interesting to see how the team decides to add/subtract to the bullpen. Let's take a look at pitchers for the Cubs that are pretty much a lock to crack the roster next season:

  • Justin Steele
  • Marcus Stroman (assuming he opts in)
  • Kyle Hendricks (assuming his option is picked up)
  • Jameson Taillon
  • Free agent?

There are a couple lines of thinking when it comes to the Hendricks and Stroman situation. Both could return; the Cubs could look to re-structure Hendricks' deal to lessen the luxury tax hit in 2024 or simply pick up his option as-is. If both men return next year, adding in a much-needed free agent will push anybody else who has been starting games back to the bullpen. If the case above is valid, let's glance at who that leaves in the pen:

  • Jordan Wicks
  • Javier Assad
  • Luke Little
  • Julian Merryweather
  • Mark Leiter Jr.
  • Adbert Alzolay
  • Free Agent?

With only 13 pitchers allowed on a major league roster, we're already at 12. That means you essentially have one spot available for all of Drew Smyly, Daniel Palencia, Jose Cuas, Brandon Hughes, and Brad Boxberger (whom I think it's pretty easy to envision that the team does not exercise his club option this winter). Palencia, Cuas and Hughes have multiple options remaining, but Smyly does not. After a poor season, the veteran left-hander may be one of the more significant question marks in this mix of arms.

Still, the Cubs need to add arms this winter. Notable free agent relievers include Josh Hader, David Robertson, Matt Moore and Craig Kimbrel. See the complete list here. If the Cubs do sign one of these guys or anybody they add to the bullpen, it will could wind up pushing several guys out of a spot at the major league level. There will not be enough room. On the bright side, it's a good problem to have because it means you're working with a ton of pitching depth.

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