With the baseball world taking over Las Vegas for the annual Winter Meetings, according to several reports, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will spend a lot of time trying to strengthen a bullpen that, on paper, is extremely weak in early December.
Epstein recently announced Brandon Morrow had surgery on his elbow last month and is not expected to start throwing until February. If everything goes as planned, which is usually not the case with pitchers coming back from elbow and/or surgery injuries, Morrow figures to miss at least the first month of the season.
Morrow’s latest injury is another example of why the Cubs should have passed on him last off-season. Morrow missed a majority of last season after Dave Roberts rode him the previous post-season the same way Joe Maddon used Aroldis Chapman the year before. The handwriting was on the wall that Morrow would miss a significant amount of time due to his workload the previous fall, but the front office ignored what the data, and history, showed and in the end it cost the team.
Adding Morrow as a depth piece to the pen would have been questionable at best, but depending on him, other than spending a lot of time on the disabled list, was another poor decision by Epstein and Hoyer. The signing of Morrow should be added to a rather long list of mistakes made by the front office since the victory parade. A list that has the price the Cubs paid for Jose Quintana at the top of it.
Epstein and Hoyer are depending on the young position players that did not perform to expectations last season to get back on track in 2019. On paper, the rotation looks very good with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Cole Hamels, Quintana and either Mike Montgomery, Tyler Chatwood or Yu Darvish. But the bullpen has more questions, than answers, as the Winter Meetings are set to begin.
The Cubs currently have one dependable pitcher in the bullpen. And that is Pedro Strop. There are other arms that figure to be on the Opening Day roster. Carl Edwards Jr., Randy Rosario, Brandon Kintzler and Brian Duensing do not exactly inspire confidence. And due to his workload last season, Steve Cishek could easily turn out to be just as effective next season as Duensing was in 2018.
As for the relievers the Cubs have been linked to, the free agent list includes Andrew Miller and Zach Britton, two pitchers the front office has shown a lot of interest in for several years. A bullpen should be built from the back to the front. Adding, and depending, on Miller or Britton at this point of their careers, in a late-inning role, without other options, could be added to the front office’s list of mistakes.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have had success trading for bullpen arms, but no so much in signing free agent relievers. Epstein and Hoyer have a lot of work to do just to keep up with the Cardinals and Brewers. And building a dependable bullpen that can close out games the Cubs have the lead in, should headline the front office’s off-season to do list.