Last year’s Cubs team didn’t have very many strengths, but the bullpen was one of them. Even after trading Ryan Tepera, Andrew Chafin, and Craig Kimbrel in deadline deals, Chicago had a formidable endgame. In fact, were it not for the surprise success of Frank Schwindel, the relief corps might have been the toast of what was an otherwise mediocre ball club.
The current labor situation means we don’t yet know when pitchers and catchers will report, but the bullpen will feature some of the more competitive battles in camp once baseball resumes. Additionally, Jed Hoyer has indicated that he’d still like to add a couple of big-armed relievers to the mix. While I’d obviously like to see the Cubs bring back Chafin, there are a number of other intriguing arms still available in free agency, including Kenley Jansen, Brad Hand, Joe Kelly, Collin McHugh, Adam Ottavino, and Trevor Rosenthal.
Those guys are pretty much household names for even the more casual fans, though Hoyer might be able to find great value some you might pass up if you’re not much of an analytics person. That list includes Brad Boxberger, Jake Diekman, Jimmy Nelson, and Danny Duffy, who will probably have to finish his career as a reliever because of arm injuries.
The Cubs have a couple of internal options in Brailyn Márquez and Adbert Alzolay. The former will be on an inning limit this season because he hasn’t pitched but 0.2 innings since 2019. Alzolay spent some time in the bullpen at the end of last season and flashed closer potential. I’m sure Hoyer and Carter Hawkins envision each as potential starters, but they’d provide plenty of firepower to high leverage situations.
As things stand now, Rowan Wick and Codi Heuer are the favorites to break camp as the team’s closer, though David Ross could go with a committee at the back end of games that includes those two plus Márquez. There are a couple of prospects that could help this year too, namely Ethan Roberts and Alexander Vizcaino, who was acquired from the Yankees in the Anthony Rizzo trade. Manny Rodriguez was a fan-favorite last season and pitched very well at times. Anderson Espinoza might have a shot as a reliever, too. Best of all, Brad Wieck appears to be healthy and, if so, he would give Chicago’s relief corps a tremendous boost.
If I had my druthers, I’d probably rank Chafin, Boxberger, and Duffy at the top of my shopping list, and I’d give long looks to Roberts, Vizcaino, and Márquez this spring. If the lockout is extended for any length of time, expect Hoyer to quickly find reliable, injury-free veterans on the open market, which would likely rule out Duffy and Nelson. One would assume the front office will be very liberal in taking fliers on veterans who agree to minor league deals, too.
Cubs News & Notes
- The Cubs are hoping their new offseason training program further boosts the development process of their younger players.
- A few notable ex-Cubs are still looking for jobs. If they’re not coming back to Chicago, and as long as they don’t sign with the Cardinals, do we really care?
- I’ve seen a couple of projections regarding Schwindel this winter, and most are pretty similar, which is to say .270/.320/.480 with 25-30 dingers and approximately 80 RBI. Basically, you are getting Rizzo’s offensive profile at a fraction of the cost, while losing defense and leadership.
- Patrick Wisdom isn’t getting as much love, however.
- I don’t know how recent this video is, and the framing is a little dark, but the third baseman sure looks pretty ripped.
Odds & Sods
John Dillinger at shortstop and he was good enough to have potentially played at the MLB level? Tell me more.
Indiana State Prison, Michigan City, IN, 1930s – Photo taken during game action on the prison diamond. Legend gangster John Dillinger played – and starred – on this field while he did time here in the 20's and 30's. Here looks like shortstop is hustling to bag for a pick-off play pic.twitter.com/sgg9NJELN2
— Old-Time Baseball Photos (@OTBaseballPhoto) January 25, 2022
Today’s Baseball Jones
Have a day, George Mitterwald! The Cubs beat the Reds 16-15 in 13 innings on July 28, 1977, and Mitterwald was 3-for-7 with two home runs. Rick Reuschel scored the winning run and picked up the win and relief, improving to 15-3 on the season. Bill Buckner also hit two big flies with five RBI, and best of all, Herman Franks went ballistic on an umpire.
MLB News & Notes
Baseball’s next competitive advantage isn’t analytics, it’s culture. For those interested in how Hawkins and his staff in Cleveland developed pitchers, this is a great read, though the second half of the post is paywall protected.
A general manager’s job isn’t what it used to be.
The league will announce this year’s Hall of Fame inductees this evening. David Ortiz, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens have the best chances according to those who track ballots, though all are on the bubble.
We’ve sadly reached a point where writers are analyzing the best baseball movies.
My new favorite is the Billy Crystal-produced 61* because Thomas Jane was great as Mickey Mantle and Barry Pepper was equally good as Roger Maris. Crystal did a great job of detailing every facet of the story, including the league’s attempt to diminish any record that topped Babe Ruth and the fight for headlines among Yankees reporters.
Robo-Umps are coming to Triple-A this season.
Will baseball feel the same if a robot is calling balls and strikes? The link is to audio content from NPR by the way.
Human interest stories are definitely the fruit of baseball’s dearth of news, and this one about baseball in the Bahamas is one you’ll want to read.
Historical articles are front and center these days, too, like baseball’s first organized rulebook.
Negotiations & Love Songs
The MLBPA surrendered significant turf in their counteroffer to the owners yesterday, but no agreement was reached. The two sides will meet again today.
If anything, yesterday’s talks proved that economics is at the core of negotiations, but I’m surprised the players’ union started to retreat so quickly. Then again, it’s possible their plan was to overreach and then scale back a little.
It could be considered a threat, promise, or a dastardly negotiating tool, but the owners conceded that they are willing to cancel games if necessary. Yes, take your ball and go home until you get your way.
That contradicts a statement from Rob Manfred in December when the commissioner tried to soft-sell a work stoppage. While announcing the defensive lockout, Manfred said “I can’t believe there’s a single fan in the world who doesn’t understand that an offseason lockout that moves the process forward is different than a labor dispute that costs games.”
Chicago Cubs visit to the White House, 1888 pic.twitter.com/DR5Olm5x4N
— Baseball In Pics (@baseballinpix) January 20, 2022
They Said It
- “[The offseason training program] is a great atmosphere to push each other because everybody wants to be the best. The only way you can compete like that is [by] being around guys like this. It’s an awesome environment. We’re going to be in a really good spot heading into spring training. I’m excited to see where our minor-league (system) ranks after something like this. I think there’s going to be a lot of breakout years.” – Brennen Davis
Tuesday Walk-Up Song
I Fought the Law by The Clash – We all want the Cubs to bring back the Sheriff and his nasty 230 ERA+, am I right?