Cubs sorely lack bullpen arms capable of handling left-handed hitters

Washington Nationals v Chicago Cubs
Washington Nationals v Chicago Cubs / Matt Dirksen/GettyImages

There's still time for Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins to grab an established left-handed reliever and I'd feel a whole lot better if they do, but there's no guarantee that happens. After watching old friend Andrew Chafin return to the Diamondbacks on a lighter-than-expected one-year, $6.25 million deal with a 2024 club option, it makes me wonder if Chicago is ready to roll with what they have - especially with Michael Fulmer now in tow, as well.

As things currently stand, Brandon Hughes is the lone lefty out in the bullpen - and while going lefty-on-lefty isn't quite as cut and dry as it was in the past, playing matchups is perhaps a bigger focus than ever before. Managers going with their gut is rarely accepted by fanbases or front offices, so let's try to understand how the Cubs will look to get key left-handed hitters out late in ballgames in 2023.

Cubs lack guys who've been effective against left-handed hitters

Off the top, let's sideline the swing men in the mix - these guys are going to be in that long relief/spot starter role, not a late-inning spot: Adrian Sampson, Hayden Wesneski and Javier Assad. Taking last season's average OPS for a big league hitter at .706, there are just two guys on the projected roster who limited lefties to sub-par marks in 2022: Brad Boxberger and Keegan Thompson.

Thompson, at least for me, falls into the same group as Sampson, Wesneski and Assad in the sense that he's shown he's most valuable in a long-relief role out of the pen. That being said, if the mix of arms works out, perhaps we could see him start to transition into more of a high-leverage role in 2023. Last year, for what it's worth, he limited left-handed hitters to a .698 OPS, slightly better than the .757 mark righties posted.

Boxberger, arguably the team's biggest bullpen addition this offseason, limited lefties to a .677 OPS in 118 plate appearances and seems likely to be a candidate to close games for Chicago. If he slides into that ninth-inning role (which is, at this point, seemingly undecided), that removes your most effective option when he comes to retiring lefty threats.

Rowan Wick, Michael Fulmer, Adbert Alzolay, Michael Rucker and Julian Merryweather have all struggled against lefties in their career. That's not to say the Cubs' revamped pitching development can't uncover something there, but they're unproven to this point. Which brings us full circle to the fact there are a handful of lefty relievers still out there in free agency who, given the make-up of this group, could be worth the spend.

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Brad Hand (.573 OPS v LHH), Zack Britton (.587 OPS v LHH) and Matt Moore (.759 OPS v LHH) are all available - and could fit perfectly on the North Side on a short-term team. I know the front office likes to leave itself some financial wiggle room for in-season additions, but I'm not sure how much sense it makes to try and navigate the 2023 season without someone who can get lefties out effectively.