A recent Bleacher Report article listed the Chicago Cubs as the top landing spot for Cleveland Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase, who led MLB in saves last year with 44.
The Guardians have reportedly been shopping Clase to top teams and the Cubs seem to have legitimate interest in him according to insider Bruce Levine. At just 25-years-old, Clase has already established himself as one of the best relief pitchers in the game. Since 2021, he has collected a whopping 110 saves (leads MLB in that time) over 215 IP with a career ERA of 2.00.
If his age and numbers weren't enough to drive up his value, Clase's contract makes him even more enticing. During the 2022 season, Clase signed a five-year deal worth $20 million with two club options worth $10 million each for 2027 and 2028. The average annual salary for the contract is just $4 million, making this an extremely team-friendly deal given the caliber of pitcher Clase is. The Cubs would have to give up significant prospect capital and maybe even an MLB hitter like Christopher Morel to secure this deal. But it may be worth it when you consider how much Clase will improve the bullpen.
Cubs projected bullpen with Clase
Closer: RHP Emmanuel Clase 3.22 ERA
8th inning: RHP Adbert Alzolay 2.67 ERA
Set-up: RHP Julian Merryweather 3.38 ERA
Set-up/Lefty specialist: RHP Mark Leiter Jr. 3.50 ERA
Set-up: LHP Luke Little 0.00 ERA (6.2 IP)
Set-up: RHP Jose Cuas 3.99 ERA
Set-up: Yency Almonte 5.06 ERA
Long relief/swing starter: RHP Javier Assad 3.05 ERA (109.1 IP)
Depth: RHP Hayden Wesneski, RHP Daniel Palencia, RHP Keegan Thompson, LHP Bailey Horn
Alzolay was admittedly very good as the team's closer last year, but that just means you would have a capable fill-in should Clase go down with an injury or sit because of heavy usage. The Cubs also went into last season with little to no structure to the bullpen. The trio of Alzolay, Merryweather, and Leiter emerged in the middle of the season and became trusted in their roles much to then-manager David Ross's credit. But with Clase, everyone would move down a notch and give younger guys like Little and Palencia less high-leverage situations to prove themselves in.
I don't think this is a deal the Cubs desperately need to make, but they do have a ton of high-end prospect capital needed to swing a trade like this. Clase's long-term upside also lines up perfectly with the five-year window of opportunity that seemingly began when the Cubs nabbed Craig Counsell from the Brewers in November. Even without Clase, it will be interesting to see Counsell toy with the myriad of bullpen options in front of him.