The Cubs rode the same handful of relievers for months on-end, only to have it all come crashing down around them in September - and it stands to reason Jed Hoyer will be focused on reinforcing his bullpen mix heading into 2024.
One potential fit and a familiar face was Pierce Johnson, who joined the Braves at the trade deadline this summer and revitalized his career in a big way. The former Cubs first-rounder was dominant with Atlanta, throwing up a 0.76 ERA and 2.83 FIP in 24 appearances. It makes sense he'd want to stay with the team given their status as a perennial contender - and the $14.25 million over two years is nothing to sneeze at for a guy who's bagged just over $12 million in his career.
Cubs: Swing-and-miss is a key part of Pierce Johnson's game
Johnson ranked near the top end of the scale in terms of whiff, chase and strikeout rates - and adding more swing-and-miss needs to be a priority for the front office this winter. Adbert Alzolay seems to have done enough to head into camp next spring with the closer's job locked up, but there's a lot that needs shake out between now and then in regards to the pitching staff.
The rotation will likely be overflowing with depth, which could lead to trades or sliding arms into swing roles in the bullpen. Assuming Kyle Hendricks and Marcus Stroman return, we're looking at a rotation featuring both of them, along with Justin Steele and Jameson Taillon. From there, it's a hodgepodge of Drew Smyly, Jordan Wicks and Hayden Wesneski rounding out the staff.
Wesneski seems likely to shift to a relief role given his struggles in 2023, and he could be joined in the pen by a combination of Alzolay, Julian Merryweather, Daniel Palencia, Codi Heuer, Caleb Kilian and Keegan Thompson. There's still a glaring need from the left side, but there's more relief help needed - period.
Johnson could have fit the bill as a nice mid-to-late innings piece; but his price tag was a bit steep to what we've seen the Cubs dole out in free agency on the relief front. It's hardly shocking a Braves player signed an extension to stay there because, well, nobody in the league manages to do that with as much regularity as Atlanta. Still, exciting to see some pseudo-hot stove action going down, as we await the beginning of the World Series.