You can never have enough pitching is a baseball truism. Bullpens are volatile is also a common belief in baseball circles. They are also taking on greater importance in the modern game of baseball. There is just the continuing increase in the sheer number of innings thrown by relievers in baseball. There is also an evolving understanding of the value of each out. In that context perhaps it isn’t surprising to read Bruce Levine’s reported before New Year’s about the Cubs possible interest in Andrew Miller, but the line that caught my attention was that the Cubs are “hell bent” on adding relievers. There is at least some validity to Levine’s statement with this being reported last week.
Source: Fernando Rodney in active talks with multiple clubs. Padres, Jays, DBacks, Cubs are in the mix.
— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) January 6, 2016
There was also this mentioned yesterday.
— Phil Rogers (@philgrogers) January 9, 2016
The confusion I have is the very crowded roster situation the Cubs have currently makes it difficult to find a clear roster spot for this additional arm. Rian Watt at BP Wrigleyville wrote a nice breakdown of the situation going over the current roster crunch. The Cubs currently have more pitchers who we would presume to have spots than spots available. Rian and I are both working under the assumption that the Cubs will carry 13 pitchers to start the season. This is a safe assumption given how liberally Joe Maddon uses his bullpen especially early in the season as starters tend to have a lighter workload. One thing that Rian and I do disagree on is reading of AZ Phil’s wonderful 40 man roster resource. I believe that Zac Rosscup does have an option remaining. The scenario I see as most likely is outlined below.
The * indicates that the player needs to pass through optional waivers before being sent down, but optional waivers are revocable. This causes teams to very rarely claim players being placed on optional waivers. The most recent Cubs example I can think of this happening was Randy Wells in 2012 was passed through optional waivers at the start of the season.
You might notice that the name Edgar Olmos is not listed anywhere. He is currently without options, but he has already been designated for assignment once this offseason by the Cubs. These scenarios also assume that the Cubs are comfortable with a roster that has a grand total of 73 games played in center field collectively at the Major League level. So then why are the Cubs, reportedly, trying to add another reliever to this logjam that cannot be sent down?
Another safe assumption to always work from is that any baseball front office knows more about its roster than you do. This goes for any big league front office, but the track record of the group leading the Cubs deserves maybe even greater faith in this notion These are the most plausible scenarios that explain why the Cubs are looking to add another big league reliever in my mind.
1) Due diligence/Reports are overblown
The most plausible scenario might be the least interesting as well. The Cubs have a lot of connections to Fernando Rodney. Joe Maddon has been a big supporter of Rodney, and was most likely key in bringing him to Chicago once he was designated for assignment by the Mariners in August of last year. The Cubs might believe that they can find value and improve the roster with Rodney. It is pretty easy to envision Fernando Rodney being a more useful reliever for the 2016 Cubs than Edgar Olmos, as an example of the most likely guy to lose his spot if the Cubs signed Rodney. The front office will then fix whatever roster crunch there may or may not be at the end of spring training. The Cubs might not be “hell bent” on adding relievers, but instead are aggressively pursuing value wherever they might find it as always.
2) The rotation is not as set as we believe
The Cubs had 4 starting pitchers last year that posted solid to histrionically great statistics for 2015 on the roster for 2016. The Cubs spent a fair bit of money on an established starter to round out that group. The rotation seems pretty set, but the Cubs were actively searching for another starting pitcher earlier in the offseason by most reports. The prices in trade were not to the Cubs liking and instead the Cubs now appears to be searching for another bullpen arm. The Cubs have also been telling a variety of the Cubs presumed bullpen arms to prepare this offseason as starters. The Cubs might be adding an arm to replace one of Adam Warren or Trevor Cahill, as the most plausible examples in my mind, taking a rotation spot. I have been a big proponent of sending Kyle Hendricks down to start the season. The reason is not because I think Kyle Hendricks is a bad bottom of the rotation starter, but because the Cubs lack any realistic options to replace a starter that goes down in the middle of the season. This would create some actual depth and help prevent the Cubs having to give starts to Dallas Beeler again.
3) There is something wrong with Neil Ramirez
Neil Ramirez was hurt a lot last year. He was hurt the year before. He was hurt the year before that. I could look up to see if he was hurt the year before that one but I think you get the point. Neil Ramirez injury concerns are part of the reasons why the Rangers were willing to include him in the Matt Garza deal in the first place. Neil Ramirez pitched with down velocity throughout most of 2015 and had to make two separate trips to the disabled list. His velocity was creeping back up to 2014 levels but he was left off the postseason roster. There are reasons to believe that Ramirez will be fine, again velocity and performance was trending in the right direction in September and October. But this would be one explanation since Ramirez was so good in 2014 and is out options heading into 2016.
4) Justin Grimm might not be as trusted
Justin Grimm was the Cubs second most valuable reliever throughout the 2015 season. Justin Grimm finished the season with a sparkling 1.99 ERA and a 1.148 WHIP. He was used as the stopper coming in whenever Joe Maddon needed to end a rally by the opposing team. He also was not the same pitcher down the stretch. He pitched in 15 regular season games starting on August 31. He pitched 11.1 innings and walked 12 batters. Another 8 batters reached via base hit and was clearly not the same pitcher he had been in the first five months of the season. Grimm did pitch in three games of the postseason with varying levels of success, but as just one example Trevor Cahill was, rightfully, favored when using in higher leverage situations than Grimm during the postseason. Justin Grimm has options, and perhaps the Cubs want the ability to send Grimm down to work on the control or mental issues that Grimm was battling at the end of 2015.
5) The Cubs want SP depth in AAA but wrong about who
Adam Warren has options. He would have to be passed through optional waivers to be sent down, but that is usually not an issue as described above. The Cubs have a tremendous amount depth on the major league roster, but pitchers cannot always be yo-yoed between the rotation and the bullpen. Adam Warren used in the bullpen for several months cannot just be tossed back into the rotation if an injury happens. The Cubs might be having a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation with the loser headed to AAA.
Or I could be reading far too much into the Cubs looking for another reliever.