Cubs Scouring Market For Bullpen Help

Ideally, the Cubs want to add a power lefty reliever, among other needs.

Bruce Levine
November 07, 2018 - 1:42 pm
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer

Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports

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CARLSBAD, Calif. (670 The Score) -- The Cubs are kicking the tires on free-agent relievers and trade scenarios to acquire bullpen help at the GM Meetings. 

Left-handed specialists are high on the Cubs' wish list, with Justin Wilson representing their only power arm from the left side in 2018. Wilson has now entered free agency himself, creating a hole in the back of a bullpen in which Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr. and Brandon Morrow are big arms from the right side.

The list of free-agent lefty relievers includes Andrew Miller and Zach Britton. Wear and tear have taken a toll on both players, who are each two-time All-Stars. Miller, 33, was one of the game's best and most versatile relief pitchers from 2014-'17, including in 2016, when he posted an absurd 13.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He struggled with a 4.24 ERA in 2018. 

Britton, 30, was 47-of-47 in save chances with a 0.54 ERA in a sensational 2016. He had a 2.89 ERA in 2017 and a 3.10 ERA this past season.

With so much emphasis on the bullpen, the Cubs would ideally like to strike early in free agency and add help now.

"We have started our discussions," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "We have not met with every team, but we will do a lot of that while we are here. I don't think I am very good at predicting (early deals being made). Maybe a couple of catalysts will drive that market. My sense so far is that I don't have a big prediction. Most of the early discussions with other GMs have been about hiring (coaches for big league staffs). I think now we are seeing that switch."

The Cubs' bullpen was really strong in 2018, posting a 3.35 ERA that was the best mark in the National League and carrying the team for long stretches in the first half of the season. The starting rotation stepped up in the second half, which was needed as closer Brandon Morrow was sidelined for good in mid-July by injury. 

The dearth of development among Cubs pitchers in their farm system is forcing them to look to the free-agent and trade market for bullpen help.

"Adding bullpen depth is a priority," Hoyer said. "Certainly adding from the (left side) is ideal. I am more focused on good relievers. The key is not just having a good pen all year. You need that bullpen fresh down the stretch. Part of that is having depth and not overusing guys. We have a strong rotation. Our bullpen performed exceptionally well last year, but we have to add more depth to make sure we get to the end of the season."

The top closer on the market is Craig Kimbrel, who will be seeking a three- or four-year deal in the annual range of $15 million to $17 million. The Theo Epstein-Hoyer regime has stayed away from giving closers long-term deals, dating back to their successful years in Boston. The Cubs hope to bring back righty reliever Jesse Chavez, who pitched extremely well in posting a 1.15 ERA in 32 appearances numerous roles for the team after being acquired from the Rangers in July.

Hoyer admitted the Cubs farm system needs to produce more pitching talent and big league-ready arms in the future.

" We haven't been able to develop that kind of guy," Hoyer said of the inability to develop a power arm like Brewers reliever Josh Hader. "That guy makes a massive impact. I think our pitching depth is improving. Hopefully, it will start to bear fruit this season."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.