In the 2017 season, the biggest weakness for the Chicago Cubs was their bullpen. While they showed stretches of dominance, in the playoffs they were clearly showing signs of being worn down. Going into the offseason you knew fixing the broken bullpen would be a top priority, in addition to replacing departing starters Jake Arrieta and John Lackey.
Fixing the pen would not be easy, but the Cubs have done a solid job, and they might not be done just yet.
Cubs 2017 closer Wade Davis denied their qualifying offer to become a free agent and Hector Rondon was not tendered a contract, leaving two gaping holes in the pen. The Cubs would need to fix their bullpen and build around the remaining pitchers.
With four close to a lock returning for the 2018 season (Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Justin Wilson) and two likely returning (Justin Grimm and Dillon Maples) the Cubs had at least two pitchers that needed to be signed. They (currently) have answered with three.
Entering the 2018 season they have three new candidates to add to the mix. Dario Alvarez, Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek will join the mix and help turn the questionable Cubs pen into one that should not have an issue closing out games late.
The signing of Cishek this morning likely means either Grimm or Maples will start the year in the minors or be traded. I cannot see the Cubs carrying nine bullpen arms which would limit the bench to just three players, one of which would be a backup catcher. Even with how versatile the Cubs are, that would leave the bench very thin.
While I would be satisfied if the Cubs broke camp with these arms, the Cubs may not be.
Rumors continue to link the Cubs to Zach Britton of the Baltimore Orioles as well as keeping an eye on Davis as he continues to find a team to pitch for in 2018 and beyond.
If the Cubs are able to bring back Davis or bring in Britton, that would allow the Cubs to push everyone back a slot with Morrow as the 8th inning setup. That means Cishek, Strop and a hopefully rebounding Wilson and Edwards in the 7th.
I know bullpens are always hit or miss year to year, but looking at what these guys have done leading up to this year, I am liking what I am seeing.
UPDATE 1/17 11:00 AM: And then, a few weeks later, the Cubs decided to bring back a reliable arm…
Sources: cubs have deal to bring back Brian Duensing. $7M for 2 years.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 17, 2018
I’m pretty confident with this bullpen going forward. There will be times that they frustrate, but hopefully that won’t become a habit and they will lock down more games than they give away. I think that’s a fairly safe bet, bullpen volatility notwithstanding.