The 2019 Chicago Cubs bullpen was, in a word, ungood. According to Fangraphs, they were the 20th ranked pen in baseball. They blew 28 out of 66 save opportunities on the year, and their 1.35 WHIP was good for 16th in baseball. In other words, ick.
So it certainly appears that a housecleaning would be in order. Theo Epstein & Company basically have to try turning chicken shit into chicken salad. With a year like the Cubs bullpen had, combined with the fact that there are just a few contracts carrying over to next season, it should be pretty easy to decide who goes and who stays…
Brian Duensing. After a pretty solid 2017, injuries just did him in. He spent his entire 2019 season outside the comforts of major league baseball. If he decides to continue plying his trade, a change of scenery would be in order.
Steve Cishek. He made $6.5 million dollars this year, and gave the Cubs 70 games without suffering the same complete meltdown in September than he did in 2018. But I’d be surprised if he’d stay for the same or less money, and he’s starting to get a little rich for the Cubs’ blood.
Derek Holland. They brought him in to be a LOOGY, and he wasn’t terribly effective. If MLB holds true to the 3 batter minimum for pitchers for 2020, guys like Holland become a thing of the past.
Brandon Morrow. This pretty much goes without saying. The Cubs hold a $12 million option on him, and they’re not picking it up. He’ll get healthy, work out for a bunch of teams, sign an incentive-loaded deal, and mow down the Cubs once before his entire body drops like Woody when Andy walks in.
Xavier Cedeno. Admit it, you forgot he was even a Cub.
Pedro Strop. This one hurts the most. The man has been an absolute lion for this franchise for so long, but his heart is bigger than his arm now – his fastball velocity has dropped over 2 MPH over the last two years. Late in the season he was spotting it more and relying on his breaking stuff, but his stuff just ain’t what it used to be. Which happens to all of us – it’s why you see Cialis ads during ballgames. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who loves Pedro Strop more than this writer, with the exception of his teammates, but it’s time to get the tribute video ready.
Craig Kimbrel. File this under “You fuck with him, you’re stuck with him.” He’s got two years on his deal, plus a vesting option for a third. Clutch whatever talisman you have and hope a full spring training returns him to his former glory. Because like him or don’t, but learn to love him because he’s the Cubs’ closer.
David Phelps. This is kind of a no-brainer, since the Cubs hold an option for $1 million. That’s not a lot of money for a guy like Phelps to do Phelps things.
Rowan Wick. Rowan Thicc was a revelation for the Cubs this season, and still has a year before he’s arbitration eligible. This is an absolute no-brainer, as is…
Kyle Ryan. Not as good as Thicc, but still pretty damn good. Also a year remaining before arbitration.
Brad Wieck. The nice 6’9 lefty seems to have adjusted nicely to his change of scenery once he came here in the Carl Edwards trade. He averaged damn near 2 strikeouts an inning once he went to the Cubs’ “pitch lab” in Arizona and developed that knee buckling curve to go along with his mid-90s heater that comes at the hitter on a hellacious downward plane. Again, still a year from arbitration.
Allen Webster. The Tom Ricketts doppelganger spent most of the season on the 60 day IL, and is still under team control. Another guy who sits mid-90s when he’s healthy, he’s a low-risk guy. Only downside is that he’s out of options, so if he doesn’t make the squad he probably won’t clear waivers.
Dillon Maples. His stuff is too good to just give up on him. He’s also the one guy here that has the best chance in going in a trade, since everyone else knows how good his stuff is. It’s just a matter of whether or not he ever harnesses it. He still has an option left, so whichever team he’s with next year has a year to see if he figures it out either at the big league level or in AAA.
WAIT AND SEE:
Brandon Kintzler. He was the Cubs’ best reliever last season, but he’s a free agent. I don’t know that any team will bring him in to close, but there might be a team offering him a nicer combination of money and opportunity than the Cubs will.
Danny Hultzen and Duane Underwood. Both these guys showed flashes of being good, but like Webster, they’re out of options. Hultzen is actually a free agent, as is James Norwood (remember him?), so another team is always capable of swooping in with an offer.
Tyler Chatwood. He could be here, he could be traded. He could be in the bullpen, he could be the 5th starter. You know what? My next guy was gonna be Alec Mills, but all this applies to Mills as well. And with Mills, the poor guy still has another option. Considering the job he did when he came up in 2019, hopefully his days of wishing he was pulling MLB cheddar are behind him.
Bear in mind, we haven’t even gotten into free agents yet. The two guys I’d be most interested in are Dillin Betances (high risk, high reward) and Will Smith (always good to have a second closer-type reliever).
Now let’s sit back and see how wrong I am.