Spring training is here and the Cubs are continuing to add arms to the organization for a hopeful run at a championship. Now adding Manny Parra or Aaron Crow are the kind of moves that fans only say World Series here we come derisively, but they are the low risk moves that every team makes. What is more is that recent Cubs history has several notable examples of reclamation projects like this playing meaningful roles on Cubs teams in Kevin Gregg and Shawn Camp.
These low risk stashes though are not the thing I find most interesting about the Cubs less heralded roster moves of the offseason. The Cubs have made big splashes with the largest contract in team history going to Jason Heyward. Adding two former All-Stars in John Lackey and Ben Zobrist has drawn the most virtual ink (because the amount of real ink on any topic is dwindling with falling sales of tangible newspapers). But the Cubs have been busy adding arms to the 40 man roster through free agency, trades and waiver claims beyond those big names. These pitchers all share a few characteristics as the Cubs certainly have a profile they like in pitchers. There is one other interesting thing all these Cub pitchers have in common (via The Cub Reporter).
Each of these pitchers has at least one option year left. Adam Warren is a virtual lock to make the 25 man roster, but the Cubs have the flexibility to keep all 6 of these pitchers on top of the various arms they’ve signed to minor league deals.
This is important because the Cubs will need more pitchers than 12 or 13 that will break camp during the season. The focus these coming days will be on who makes that initial cut, but more than those 7 or 8 relievers will sit in those folding chairs down the left field line at Wrigley this year. 21 different pitchers made a relief appearance for the Cubs in a relatively healthy season of 2015. That isn’t including position players David Ross or Chris Denorfia making appearances either. The Cardinals and Pirates each used less than the Cubs last year with 17 and 13 respectively, but the point remains that it is the safest of bets that the Cubs will use more than 8 different relievers through the course of 2016.
The unique way the Cubs have constructed their pitching staff only makes this point more clear. The Cubs first several options to replace an injured starting pitcher are relievers. So any injury to the pitching staff is going to result in the Cubs needing to add a reliever to the big league staff, and the Cubs have diligently collected 5 options they can control for the whole season at Iowa. That is on top of the various minor league deals, which many of the more exciting (exciting being a relative term) options include opt outs if not called up by a certain date.
Brian Schlitter is why you should care about this. Last year the Cubs had to call up Brian Schlitter repeatedly because there were no better options in the minors. The oft-discussed lack of Cubs pitching prospects during the Theo Epstein regime is no longer true, but most are no where near making any impact in 2016. The only interesting pitching prospects that have pitched above A ball are the frequently hurt Carl Edwards Jr. and Pierce Johnson or the feel good story of Ryan Williams.
The front office has creatively addressed this void of upper level pitching prospects. This was a focus throughout the offseason with the first free agent signing being Andury Acevedo, and was part of the front office’s finishing touches on the offseason when dealing Chris Coghlan for Aaron Brooks. None of these pitchers might turn out to be very good in 2016, but it is a lot better that the Cubs have a plethora of options to try when the inevitable need to dip into the minors happens.