If there’s one thing the Cubs have made very well known this offseason, it’s that they are seeking to upgrade and solidify their pitching staff. With Jason Hammel out of the mix, the indication from Joe Maddon is that Mike Montgomery could slide into that number five spot in the starting rotation. Of course, then they’ll have his spot to fill for middle-relief support.
Now, let’s add in the departure of Aroldis Chapman and, if we’re going off what Chapman said yesterday, the increasing likelihood that he will not return to the Cubs. I don’t expect a surprise spring training reunion from Chapman like we got from Dexter Fowler last season.
It’s easy to forget that the Cubs have Hector Rondon on staff still and even more easy to forget that he was pretty solid for the Cubs in 2014, 2015 and the first half of 2016 – he posted a 2.42, 1.67 and 1.72 ERA over those periods, respectively – before dropping off a cliff upon his return from the DL. In the second half of 2016 he slashed 6.41/5.59/3.72 ERA/FIP/xFIP over 19.2 innings. Granted, those innings were more mop up duty than high leverage but the reason for that was A) Aroldis Chapman and B) Rondon wasn’t pitching well enough to warrant being put into a high leverage situation.
So here we are in the offseason, and the Cubs have obvious holes to address in their pitching staff. Jed Hoyer acknowledged that much yesterday.
Hoyer: “We’re kicking the tires on any pitching that’s available. Anyone that’s available, we’re going to be in on and talking about.” #Cubs
— Patrick Mooney (@CSNMooney) December 5, 2016
If you read that literally, which why wouldn’t you, you’d believe that the Cubs will be in on Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, the two top remaining closers. There’s been at least one report – via Ken Rosenthal – out there saying the Cubs are just asking about Jansen to check in but are not too serious. Now there are reports – via Patrick Mooney – that the Cubs are one of a number of teams that are seriously looking at Jansen. In or out?
It gets confusing with all the rumors, then signings, then more rumors and then more signings.
Things we think we know
First, the Cubs need to upgrade their bullpen. Second, the Cubs don’t know if they can rely on Hector Rondon and, at this point, have signaled pretty clearly that the answer is they can’t. Third, and perhaps most importantly, is that the Cubs just saw first-hand how valuable the bullpen is and will be when a team is pushing for a World Series Championship.
The Cubs have options in front of them. They can make an acquisition of one of those high-ticket free agents like Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen. They can acquire a lower level free agent closer – but there are risks involved – with a guy like Greg Holland or Tyson Ross, both of whom are coming off significant injuries.
They can also trade for a reliever, either now or at the trade deadline. The perceived problem with the trade deadline is that there is usually much more urgency involved in those moves which requires more sacrifice (see the Aroldis Chapman trade for exhibit A). Of course, with the Cubs coming off a World Series win, you could argue that the urgency is as great now as it would be at the deadline since there’s every reason to believe that the Cubs will be, at a minimum, vying for the top spot in the National League Central.
Oh boy, oh boy. There’s so much to distill here and yet, really, there’s not. Why? Because the Cubs don’t have to make a move at all. For all the chatter and rumors swirling around at the Gaylord National Resort, the fact remains that the Cubs could stand pat, let the market fall where it will and watch teams overpay for closers. And yes, they could go with Hector Rondon.
Lest we forget, the Cubs offense last year was amazing and, guess what, it’s going to be even better in 2017. The young talent on this team just got introduced to greatness, pressure, perseverance and, did I mention greatness? I know they say that pitching wins championships, and they’re right, in fact I pretty much just said the same thing above. Or did I? Touché.
Seriously though, what if the Cubs are just ‘looking’ and what if the by-product of their ‘looking’ is that it drives up the price for closers to astronomical levels that are so high that they don’t end up buying. Well, that wouldn’t be a bad outcome now, would it? We all should remember that the Cubs have an ace in the hole.
That ace is named Carl Edwards, Jr., who has elite spin-rate and his control just keeps getting better. Joe Maddon felt good enough about Edwards that he put him into game 7 of the World Series in the bottom of the tenth inning with everything on the line. And he pitched pretty well in that spot too. My expectation is that Edwards moves into the closer role before year-end and maybe even to start the year. Why not?