One of the areas the front office is looking to address this off-season is the bullpen. The Cubs relievers had a good year before injuries to Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop left Joe Maddon with only a few options he trusted.
The Cubs have been linked to two of the top free agent closers on the market, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon. The Cubs viewed Aroldis Chapman as a rental when he was acquired from the Yankees in July. It’s believed the Cubs are not interested in bringing him back, especially on a record-setting, long-term deal that he is seeking. The Yankees are viewed as the frontrunners to sign Chapman for a four- to five-year contract in the $80-100 million range. With Chapman expected to set a record with his contract, Jansen could be right behind him. Guesstimates have Jensen inking an $80 million contract.
The Sun-Times reported this week “the Cubs have made it clear they’re not in the market for the deep end of the free agent closer pool.” The Cubs are not interested in re-signing Chapman or trying to outbid the Giants or Dodgers for Kenley Jansen.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have a history of not spending big in free agency on a closer. Epstein signed Keith Foulke to a three-year, $20.75 million contract in 2003. Foukle was really good in 2004 and helped the Sox win The World Series. Foulke had a severe drop off in 2005 and was horrible over the last two years of the deal. Epstein also signed Bobby Jenks to a two-year, $12 million contract. And needless to say the Sox did not get anything in return on their investment.
It is believed that Epstein would have not retained Jonathan Papelbon if he had not left Boston for Chicago. Papelbon went to the Phillies and inked the record-setting $50 million contract shortly after Epstein took over baseball operations for the Cubs.
The Cubs were interested two years ago in signing Andrew Miller, but not for the four-year, $36 million contract he received from the Yankees in December 2014, that now looks like a bargain.
Ken Rosenthal reported “given Epstein’s history, it’s probably unwise to expect him to sign” Chapman, Jansen or Melancon.”
The Cubs believe closers can be developed. Carl Edwards Jr. could be an option late in games next season. And Hector Rondon is expected to be healthy and have his sider ready to go by Spring Training.
According to the Tribune, the Cubs are concerned about Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon moving forward due to the heavy workloads the last three seasons. The Tribune reported the two have pitched in a combined 385 games over the last three seasons.
Since the beginning of the 2014 season, Strop has appeared in 195 games and completed 176 1/3 innings. Strop pitched in a career-high 76 games in 2015. This past season, Strop was 2-2 in 54 games with a 2.85 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 2.91 FIP. Strop was on track for a career-year until the knee injury forced him to the disabled list.
Rondon has appeared in 190 games over the last three seasons, completing 184 1/3 innings. Rondon was really good before the Cubs acquired Chapman. Rondon was 1-1 in his first 32 games of the season with a 1.72 ERA, 0.67 WHIP and 14 saves. Rondon walked only four batters with 42 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings. Injury to his right forearm and the role change led to a 1-2 record in 22 games with a 6.41 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. Rondon finished the season 2-3 with 18 saves, a 3.53 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 3.50 FIP in 54 games (51 innings).
Justin Grimm is expected back. Mike Montgomery will get a chance to earn a spot in the rotation.
Travis Wood is a free agent and it is unclear if the front office will bring him back. According to the Tribune, Joe Smith is a possibility to return.
The Cubs “could seek lower-priced alternatives” this off-season, knowing they could always make a deal in July like was done with Chapman.
The teams that are chasing the Cubs appear to be willing to open the checkbook and pay top-dollar for Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon.
The Giants are on record saying they will sign one of the three free agent closers. The Yankees are very interested in re-signing Chapman. The Dodgers are heavy on Chapman, so are the Nationals. And Melancon could end up back with Dusty Baker if Mike Rizzo is not able to sign Chapman.
Jed Hoyer addressed the team’s needs in the bullpen during the GM Meetings.
Hoyer said to Comcast SportsNet, “We’re going to explore every avenue. Obviously, there’s an appeal to guys in the free agent market that have great track record. But I think closers come from all over. Generally when you sort of start looking at where those guys come from some had some bumps along the road and established themselves later on. You never know who that guy’s going to be. If you stop thinking that way, you have no chance to find that guy. You always want to think like ‘Okay, who is going to be that next Andrew Miller? Who is going to be that next Wade Davis?’”
The Cubs have been linked to free agent Greg Holland and there are options in the system, especially from the left side with Rob Zastryzny and Jack Leathersich. The front office has a lot of work to do, mainly on the pitching side, over the next couple of months in order to give Joe Maddon and Chris Bosio the pieces to put together a good bullpen to start the season … for the defending World Series Champions.