Adbert Alzolay was quietly one of the breakout stars for the 2023 Cubs, seizing the closer's role and thriving in the late innings. He made a career-high 58 appearances, working to a 2.67 ERA and 1.016 WHIP across 64 innings of work and looks to have the inside track for the closer's job heading into next season.
That being said, there are plenty of holes that need filled in that bullpen this offseason. According to MLB insider Jon Morosi, the Cubs can't be ruled out in the Josh Hader sweepstakes, given their need for impact relief arms and the presence of the left-hander's longtime manager, Craig Counsell.
Signing Hader would require the Cubs to do something they have rarely done in recent years: give out a multi-year guarantee to a reliever. Jed Hoyer has mixed and matched reclamation projects and low-risk signings in building out his bullpens in recent years and has had a great deal of success in the process.
Now, Morosi doesn't seem to see the Cubs at the top of the pecking order in the Hader sweepstakes, naming the World Series champion Rangers and the Philadelphia Phillies as logical landing spots. Both have needs in the bullpen and the fit with both teams is clear. But if Hoyer wants to make some noise, a pursuit of Hader would certainly accomplish that.
The 29-year-old southpaw went from the Brewers to padres halfway through the 2022 season - which was his worst as a big leaguer. But he quickly returned to form this year, earning the fifth All-Star selection of his career and finishing with a 1.28 ERA, 2.69 FIP and 13.6 K/9 in 56 1/3 innings of work.
Really, the only knock against what Hader does on the mound is his walk rate, which ranked in the bottom 5 percent of the league in 2023. But given the glaring lack of left-handed options in the Chicago bullpen, the veteran could address a major weakness of the roster as Counsell and Hoyer work to put together a postseason-caliber roster this winter.
Record-breaking price tag seems likely to keep the Cubs on the sideline
MLBTR pegged Hader for a six-year, $110 million deal in their start-of-offseason predictions piece. That would not only set the high-water mark for a reliever in Cubs franchise history, but would make be the largest guaranteed contract for a relief pitcher in MLB history, edging out the deal Edwin Diaz singed with the Mets earlier this year (5/102).
It's hard to envision the Cubs going to such lengths, even for a reliever as dominant as Hader. With multiple other weaknesses on the roster, it seems likely that - even if Hoyer finally hands out a multi-year deal or two to strengthen the bullpen - it won't be at the level required to bring in someone of this caliber.