Fixing the Cubs bullpen: Trade or internal options?

Fixing the Cubs bullpen: Trade or internal options?

I understand that the bullpen is the last and easiest thing you should try and fix when you're rebuilding.  I also understand trading Marshall for three possible future starters, trading Cashner for your future everyday first baseman in Anthony Rizzo, and moving Jeff Samardzija to the starting rotation.  All of these could help the Cubs for many years beyond 2012.

Those moves, however, have left the bullpen decimated.  With Kerry Wood already injured, the Cubs have been left with an unsteady closer in Carlos Marmol and a rag-tag team of unproven arms and aging "crafty" relievers.

The Cubs don't have a lot of options and you don't want to trade any long term assets for relievers, but the Cubs do have plenty of interchangeable role players off the bench.  Manager Dale Sveum likes his bench with Jeff Baker, Blake DeWitt, and Reed Johnson (who can't be traded for a couple more months since he was signed as a FA), but none of them are part of this team's future.  They may not have a ton of value, but they could be well worth a middle relief arm who can throw strikes.  The Cubs have capable replacements in Iowa with the hot hitting Luis Valbuena and Adrian Cardenas. They also have a host of utility men with some MLB experience in Matt Tolbert, Alfredo Amezaga, or Edgar Gonzalez.  All these players do not need further development and are ready to contribute now.

The other issue is Lendy Castillo.  He does show some potential and I was encouraged by his improved velocity (93 mph) in his last start, but he's a liability in that pen in the short term.  He hasn't worked a lot and loses velocity when he's used often and/or for multiple innings.  He needs more time in the minors.  Of course, the Cubs can't just send him down without offering him back to the Phillies, so they may want to see if they can work out some sort of deal.  The option of trading DeWitt for Castillo is probably gone now that the Phillies have signed Mike Fontenot off the scrap heap.

Starters Marlon Byrd and Geovany Soto may also have limited futures with the teams.  In both cases, the Cubs are likely trying to value them as starters at premium positions.  That is still the case with Soto, despite his early season slump, so there's no way I would trade a starting MLB catcher for a relief pitcher.  The answer isn't as clear cut anymore with Marlon Byrd.  He hasn't been the same player he was in 2010.  He lost his extra base power in 2011 and has yet to regain it in 2012.  Byrd can still go get it in the OF, as evidenced by his great diving catch yesterday, but if he's hitting singles and offers no slugging or OBP, then he's essentially a 4th outfielder -- one who is being paid $6.5M this season.  That's chump change for an above average starting CF'er as Byrd was in 2010 (4.4 WAR), but expensive for the player he has been of late.

So the question becomes, do you wait it out on Byrd and see if he can get hot and recoup a little value?  At this point, I think there's little hope for that.  I'm not sure a hot streak is going to convince anyone that Byrd will be the player he'll be in 2010 again.  It could convince them that he'll be useful, but they probably already know that.

There are also internal options.  While the Iowa starters have struggled, they do have some capable relief arms.  Tennessee also has 2 or 3 interesting arms that could help now or a little later his season.  So while I'm not going to speculate on what kind of relief arms the Cubs can get in exchange for someone like Byrd, Baker, or DeWitt, I can speculate on some of the arms the Cubs would consider bringing up from the minors.

  • Scott Maine, LHP, Iowa:  Maine is already on the 40 man roster so he wouldn't necessitate any maneuvering.  He's also an older "prospect" in that he's already 27.  This isn't a developing player the Cubs are in danger of bringing up too soon.  Maine struggled with his control early on but has righted the ship recently.  He has an acceptable walk rate of 2.84 versus a 7.11 strikeout rate.  He has also put up a 4.50 G/F ratio and has allowed just 2 hits in 6 2/3 innings.  All told it adds up to a 1.42 ERA and a miniscule 0.68 WHIP.  It also helps that Maine is lefty with the Cubs only having James Russell in the pen.  Russell has been the most reliable member of the bullpen and the Cubs may need him as more than just a lefty specialist.
  • Blake Parker, RHP, Iowa: Parker has been perhaps better than Maine in that he has yet to allow a run and has a walk rate of just 1.69.  He also has allowed fewer baserunners overall (o.56 WHIP).  The problem with Parker is that he is not on the 40 man roster, he's also a RH pitcher, and he is very much a flyball pitcher, which may not play as well at Wrigley on days where the wind blows out.
  • Jeff Beliveau, LHP, Iowa: Beliveau has many of the advantages that Maine does.  He's on the 40 man, he's lefty, and he's been effective.  Beliveau has a 1.29 ERA and has a better strikeout to walk ratio of 9.00/2.57.  In short, he's the better pitcher right now and probably long term.  But the fact that he's more likely to have a longer future with the team may work against him in that the Cubs will want him to get more work in against advanced hitters.  He has yet to have a full season above A ball.
  • Frankie De La Cruz, RHP, Iowa: De La Cruz was one of the last cuts in the spring and has had this best success with major league pitching coach Chris Bosio.  He's currently not on the roster, which works to his disadvantage.  He's pitched well in AAA with a 2.16 ERA, but a mediocre strikeout to walk ratio of 4.32/3.24 will probably hold him back for the time being.  His improved control is encouraging.  I've also wondered given his solid 4 inning relief effort yesterday if the Cubs might consider making him a starter again.
  • Alberto Cabrera, RHP, Tennessee: The only AA pitcher on this list for now because he is currently on the 40 man roster.  Of all the pitchers on this list, Cabrera has the best stuff, as shown by his 10.38 strikeout ratio.  His control, however, is the least reliable of the candidates.  Cabrera has improved his walk ratio to 4.05, but given the Cubs control issues out of the pen, it's still a little too high to make them comfortable.  He has been effective limiting baserunners (just 3 hits allowed and a 0.90 WHIP) and has kept his ERA at a respectable 2.70.  Cabrera still needs time to develop and become more consistent with the new grip on his fastball, which has produced 97 mph heat with wicked movement.  I look at Cabrera and Beliveau as the two guys with the chance to have the biggest long term impact on the bullpen, although both probably won't be up until later in the season.

Other candidates include Esmalin Caridad (remember him?).  Caridad has his fastball back in the mid 90s and has been gradually used in higher leverage situations in Iowa.  He has yet to allow a hit this season, but has walked 4 batters in 6 innings, although 2 of them came in the same bad outing.  Manny Corpas has big league, high leverage experience but he's struggled at Iowa with his control (5.14 walk ratio), though he has been decent overall (3.86 ERA). Kevin Rhoderick has one of the best sliders in the system and has a 9.53 K ratio vs. 0 walks so far this season.  He has a 1.59 ERA.   Both are longshots, however, since neither is currently on the 40 man roster.

I imagine the Cubs will continue to look at deals for Byrd and perhaps Baker to see if they can add some quality arms to the mix, but that may take some time.  The Cubs bullpen is in need of some immediate repair, so perhaps they should consider calling up someone like Maine or Parker while they continue to search for external solutions.

Filed under: Bullpen

Tags: Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood


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  • I think you hit the nail on the head, John, and I'm sure the Cubs' FO is thinking along the same lines. They're looking to trade for relief pitching without overpaying, while they're watching their RPs at Iowa to see who's pitching well. It wouldn't surprise me to see a move (or moves) well before the trading deadlines.

  • Thanks Ray...I wouldn't be surprised either if the Cubs made a couple of moves within the next 2-3 weeks.

  • I think the first and best option is internal. it' still very early, so I say the Cubs should bring up someone like Scott Maine.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Maine is a logical choice from many perspectives. Even his biggest weakness, control, has improved in the early going.

  • Looks like Maine and Beliveau are both pitching well, from the stats I see.

  • They are both pitching well. I like Beliveau better, but I would bring up Maine first.

  • Since the Cubs are not a good team, I would not trade any good
    prospects for a middle-aged relief pitcher or two

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Me neither, but I would trade a short-term guy like Baker or DeWitt if it can get us another arm.

  • If the Cubs choose to trade for bullpen help, it will probably involve Byrd or one of the extra IFs.

  • That would be the most likely scenario. It would be somebody who isn't going to be here long term and ideally they would get somebody back who has more than a year of cost control.

  • I've never understood the mentality that keeps players like Baker and DeWitt around when a team is rebuilding. Johnson is another matter, as it looks like CF is going to be a platoon situation this year. Let's see what the young guys can do. And, if the Cubs can pull off a deal that gets them a decent arm in the pen for either DeWitt or Baker, that would be simply amazing.

  • In reply to Chadzo69:

    The rationale is probably trying to get the best value they can for their assets. Guys like Baker and Byrd have some value and it's guaranteed if the Cubs were to waive them, they'd lose them and teams would find an important role for them, so it represents a lost opportunity in the sense that teams would probably be willing to give something up for them.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Oh, yeah. I totally agree. I'm just hoping they aren't going to be on the roster past the trade deadline.

  • In reply to Chadzo69:

    I think all of the names mentioned, except mayybbee Soto, will be gone by the deadline. Soto may also go after the season.

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    all these guys were under towers (one of the best at building a pen imo) at sd at some point right?

  • In reply to Nate Hummel:

    Not sure I understand, Nate. Which guys?

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    In reply to Nate Hummel:

    None of the three amigos ever worked for Kevin Towers.

  • In the mean time, I hope Garza can go 9 innings tonight, so we don't have to see the bullpen :)

  • In reply to cubsfan4life:

    He badly wants that complete game. I was at the last one where he threw the ball in the stands.

  • I'd trade someone from the Cubs' pupu platter of a bench, but not either Soto or Byrd. Byrd is a better player than this and it'll show sooner rather than later. I have no doubt. Don't sell low.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Have to agree there. I'd stick with Byrd for a while. For one thing Jackson has 20 strikeouts in just 60 PAs, so you can't bring him up right now. Advanced pitchers are finding the holes in his swing and he has to find a way to adapt before he gets to the majors.

    I'd rather trade the bench guys as well. I don't think we'll get a whole lot for Byrd even when he does turn it around, but I don't see the need to settle right now.

  • IMO no viable prospects should be dealt forelief help. lokkinside first. If the tem were better, my opinion ight be different. This squad does not look like a contender,, so there is work to be done . Soe of the additoions appear to be good, Stewart and LaHair for instance. Soto's performance has been the biggest disappointment over the past 2 seasons. Do we have any catchers worth much on the farm? If not we should be looking.

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    I agree. No prospects for relief pitchers. We had enough of that with Ed Lynch to last a lifetime. If we trade anybody, trade the bench guys.

    The Cubs have Welington Castillo on the farm who is their 6th rated prospect overall. He's hitting .478 with 2 HRs. Great arm behind the plate. He's in AAA and he's ready to play. Just needs a chance. He'll get one once the Cubs get a good offer for Soto.

  • Plaese exxcuse typhos!

  • On a different subject, per, the Red Sox haven't put Michael Bowden on waivers yet. Looks like they hope to sneak him through or trade him.

  • I think the rules are they don't have to do it for 7 days. Then once they put him on waivers there's an additional 3 days. My guess is they're seeing if they can trade him.

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    Off topic, but John, what's your reaction to some of the speculation that Levine did in his online chat session yesterday?

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I think for the most part I agreed with him if I remember correctly. Anything specific you had in mind?

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Soler, LaHair and Dempster to be specific.

    Do you think MLB is really holding up Soler because of Fausto Carmona?

    I agree Dempster would likely wave his NTC to go to a contender. He just seems like that kind of guy.

    Finally, in regards to LaHair, what do you think about trading him once Rizzo is ready? I can see both sides of that argument.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I don't know why they're holding up Soler but I don't think it's because of Carmona. Two different cases.

    I think Dempster will waive his clause if asked but probably not until later in the season.

    As for LaHair, they wouldn't have anywhere to put him so it's a possibility. I don't think he's a long term solution in LF so I think they'll probably deal him if he's playing well.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Potential suitors for LaHair?

    The Dodgers instantly came to mind, and I thought about Tampa Bay for some reason, even though they have Pena.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    LaHair seems a perfect fit for Tampa once Pena is gone. Dodgers too if Loney disappoints, like he seems to do every year.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    If LaHair continues to hit, I don't think he's any LESS a long term solution in LF than Soriano is. When it comes to replacing Soriano, because we would eat so much of his contract, we pretty much need to replace him with someone making the league minimum or close to it. Otherwise we're paying two guys to play the position instead of one. I think Soriano will be replaced as soon as we have someone making league minimum who can match or exceed Soriano's production, and I think LaHair would fit that bill.

    The other option, if we want Soriano around so we have a little RH power left, would be to stick LaHair in RF and let Dejesus be the 4th OF. Dejesus is essentially making 4th OF money, and profiles well as a 4th OF. Dejesus and R. Johnson could be the reserve OFs and we would bring up Rizzo and lose Mather. Or we could deal R. Johnson if there's anyone interested in him, since he's only making like 1.1 mil and is coming off a very good season.

  • In reply to SVAZCUB:

    I think they're probably both gone in the long run, although LaHair in LF is not out of the question in the short term.

    I don't think the Cubs will want to have an OF with LaHair and Soriano in the corners. That'll run Marlon Byrd ragged. DeJesus will stay in there for this D and OBP skills.

  • What's the latest news about Ángel Guzmán?

  • In reply to JackF66:

    Last I heard he was on the Dodgers.

  • The Cubs are not in any position to make trades in which they give away more talent than they get. They need to not get distracted with short term issues to the extent that they deviate from their long term plan of constantly bringing in more talent than they lose.

    While there are internal options it makes sense to try them. One of the "luxuries" of having a bad team is it gives you the option of giving trials to guys that good teams couldn't afford to give trials to. Because of that, it's actually easier for bad teams to discover talent. That's another thing that should be leveraged, and I believe that the FO is trying to do that, by giving shots to guys like LaHair, Stewart and Volstad.

    As you mentioned in the article, the Cubs have a bunch of guys who are viable bullpen candidates. They should give opportunities to those guys instead of wasting roster space on guys like Shawn Camp, who isn't good any more and whose best days are behind him.

    There are a number of guys like Parker and Maine who pitched very well at Iowa last year, and who had reasonably good springs. They should be the ones next in line for a shot. You could even include de la Cruz in that group, as he pitched very well in AAA last year and in his brief trial with Milwaukee.

    The real problem is not middle relief. It's the inconsistent/injury prone guys like Marmol and Wood who are supposed to be our top relievers and anchor the bullpen. If we're going to make trades for bullpen pieces and give up value for them, it should be for high quality guys who can anchor the pen, not for more middle relief candidates. We already have plenty of those guys.

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