Bullpen is Duensing

Forgive the lame pun as the title, but this offseason has done terrible things to many of our brains. The Cubs made a perfectly good and solid addition this morning bringing Brian Duensing back. Jon Heyman is reporting that the Cubs have inked the veteran lefty reliever to a 2 year $7 million deal. It was a little over 365 days ago that the Cubs signed Duensing to a 1 year $2 million contract. I was critically of the move at the time guaranteeing money and a roster spot to a largely ineffective 34 year reliever. Today I am pleased that the Cubs added a solid veteran on at an extremely modest rate.
Duensing certainly earned the raise with his solid, steady performance last year. The southpaw reliever appeared in 68 games and tossed 62.1 innings with a 2.74 ERA and 1.219 WHIP. Now ERA is not the best measure of performance for a reliever, but Duensing's 8.9 K/9 versus a 2.6 BB/9 paints the picture of an effective reliever. The walk rate is particularly notable in a bullpen that struggled making the other team earn it. Duensing's overall numbers look even better if you remove some of the early struggles he had in April coming back from injury. Duensing started the year on the disabled list and made 5 appearances from April 14 to April 22 once he was activated. Duensing didn't walk any batters and struck out 7 in those games, but was hit hard in 5.1 innings giving up 9 hits and 2 home runs. The end result was a 10.13 ERA and opponents posting a 1.000 OPS against Duensing prior to his next appearance on April 24. After April 24, Duensing posted a 2.07 ERA the rest of the way. Opponents hit a mere .635 OPS against Duensing.
Duensing's was also an incredibly versatile pitcher. He was brought in to fill the void of left handed specialist left by the departed Travis Wood, but he was nearly as effective against right handed batters last year. Duensing was more effective with his command against lefties posting a 9.25 K/9 and 1.85 BB/9 compared to 8.53 K/9 and 3.08 BB/9 against righties. But left handed batters actually posted a slightly higher wOBA than right handed batters (.296 to .290). This allowed Duensing to be Maddon's Swiss Army knife in the bullpen. Duensing appeared anywhere from the fourth to the tenth inning. He faced just one batter 17 times. He pitched more than one inning 19 times.
There isn't much to dislike about this deal, but there always has to be some concern committing money to a 35 year old pitcher. This was also Duensing’s best season since at least 2013. Duensing's velocity dipped a fair bit at the end of the season. And while Duensing was never a guy that lighted up the radar gun, he has yet to shown he can be as effective at diminished velocities. Fangraphs projects Duensing to post similar K/9 (projected 8.1 to 8.81 last year) and BB/9 (projected 3.3 to 2.60 last year) numbers to last year with an understandable jump in ERA to 4.07. A team could certainly do worse as a fifth or sixth option out of the bullpen.
The move almost certainly takes the Cubs out of the running for Greg Holland. Duensing’s 3.5 AAV (average annual value) on the deal moves the Cubs competitive balance tax calculations number at $168,114,242. That leaves the Cubs $32 million dollars to add a starting pitcher and room for in-season moves while remaining under the tax threshold. Also the bullpen now has 7 guaranteed members with Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, Justin Wilson, Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing. The Cubs will likely carry 8 relievers leaving a battle between Justin Grimm, Dillon Maples, Dario Alvarez and the other interesting depth. Grimm will have the advantage as he is out of options at this point, but it is hard to imagine the Cubs adding a big money closer like Holland to this deep and talented mix. It is a deep and talented group of relievers even without an “elite closer”, and has the potential to be that dreaded super bullpen. Brian Duensing is a nice hedge against the range of performance Justin Wilson, Carl Edwards and others have shown in their career.

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  • I guess the bullpen can resume Duensing every time one of our guys hits a bomb.

  • Good, solid move by the Cubs.

    I still hesitate to call the Cubs bullpen a "Super" bullpen, but if everyone performs up to their expected abilities, it will be a very solid, if not spectacular group.

    Closer is the only area I'm a little worried about. While we have three guys (Wilson/Chiseck/ Morrow) who have some closing experience, none of those guys screams big-game, lock-down closer to me. Probably will be a closer by committee situation most of the season, and if that keeps guys healthy and performing to their max, then more power to them.

    Still intrigued on how the FO is thinking about the starting pitching situation. Wish I was a fly on the wall for their daily briefings!

  • In reply to DetroitCubFan:

    I like the concept of closer-by-committee, since it makes possible the use of the best available reliever in an earlier high leverage situation, rather than saving him for the traditional "closer's 9th".

  • It is about the outs! 2-3 lefties depending on Montgomery's status. I keep betting on Cobb at $15-16M AAV, leaving $12-13m to add in the mid season. Darvish almost washes that out at $25m.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    I was just looking at BCB article:

    https://www.bleedcubbieblue.com/2018/1/16/16896376/2018-cubs-payroll-luxury-tax

    He has the Cubs having 36.3 M of room under the cap before the Duensing signing. That would put us close to 33M of space after the signing. If they wanted 9 to 10 million for midseason additions, that would leave 23-24 million to sign a SP.

  • In reply to John57:

    Not to mention a veteran catcher and trading for Yelich.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    Yelich would be a great addition.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    What for? We have 2 center fielders better than Yelich
    We also have 2 awesome young catchers

  • In reply to Holycow84:

    We need Yelich to leadoff and lengthen the lineup, and he can play center. It's probably not going to happen. Backup catchers are generally defensive positions players, who can step in to rest the main guy and keep pitchers on their game. I'd be good with Carstini. I like him.

  • In reply to John57:

    BCB underestimate a few costs compared to Cots (a source I trust generally on this topic), but I goofed on the arithemtic to figure $28 million. I think the figure is closer to $32 million.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    I have a feeling that Cobb is the one they get too. I think he eventually accepts a three-year deal, which I've read has been the stick point (his agent is pushing for more years). Although it wouldn't surprise me if his AAV is a bit higher to compensate.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    I thought someone on Cubs den said he was requesting around 20M per year. Maybe up the 3/42 M offer to 3/45 M and he might sign. The closer it gets to ST I would guess the players would be getting a little antsy.

  • In reply to John57:

    He was looking for 4 year 70 million dollar deal. Teams will also get antsy to fill their needs.

  • With this move, the Cubs afford themselves some flexibility with future acquisitions.

    If a FA starter is signed, let's say Darvish for example, I could see the Cubs offering Miami a package of Almora, Montgomery, Butler and/or Grimm, plus a low level minor league player or 2 for Yelich. I'm certain there are other teams that can make better offers but this may be a starting point. The Luxury tax numbers would also need to work out to keep a FA starter + Yelich + mid-season needs under the magic tax number.

  • In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    That's an angle I did not think of initially after the Duensing signing. There is more than a couple team's that like to have Montgomery for their rotation as part of a trade.

  • In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    Butler and Grimm aren't worth much. Almora is liked by Cubs fans, but he just okay. Montgomery is good, but not that good. I'm guessing for Yelich it would hurt, say Happ or Russell, plus a top minor league SP prospect.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    I wouldn’t add a top minor league sp prospect to a trade that already includes Happ or Russell. They have Almora/Happ... Yelich is not needed, just a luxury as 1 guy.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    I wonder what 'the boys' are thinking. This lineup does not lengthen quite long enough. Idk, it's above my pay grade. These young guys of ours have upside left, but I'm not sure that getting better at what they do is enough to close that gap.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    I used to be all over getting Yelich, ideally using Schwarber as the key piece, but I have changed my tune. I typically find articles about a guy being "in the best shape of his life!" to be laughable, but I have bought into the Schwarber hype. And...I've grown to like the idea of Bryant leading off. Bryant, Rizzo, Contreras, Schwarber.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    I like it. And I want Javy batting higher in the order:

    Bryant
    Rizzo
    Contreras
    Schwarber
    Baez
    Russell
    Almora/Happ
    Heyward

  • In reply to TTP:

    That lineup is too right handed and short after the first four, unless things change over the course of a year.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    If Happ occupies the #8 hole that would be 4 LHB (Rizzo, Schwarber, Happ, Heyward). Remember, Happ is a switch-hitter. Personally, I would swap Russell and Happ/Almora.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    It does balance better offensively with Happ moved up up, but I still worry about dry spells and moving runners overall.

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    In reply to Cubswin09:

    I think the most logical trade from the Cubs' side is based around Happ and Almora with Yelich becoming the long term CF but it's hard to see that being the best offer the Marlins could get. Honestly, it's hard to see Schwarber (as he is now) being the best offer the Marlins could get. Yelich is an amazing talent/contract combination. I'd love to have Yelich but unless the Cubs side of the trade is led with Bryant or Hendricks, I have a hard time seeing it. The Cubs' side shouldn't be Bryant or Hendricks.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Thanks for freeing this, Mike.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    That is the problem. Cubs just don't have the pieces to pull off a deal for Yelich.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    Beating a dead horse, but it's the time you wish you still had Eloy because Yelich is exactly the kind of guy you want to move an elite prospect for. We saw with Dex what an elite leadoff guy does for this lineup.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    The Cubs scored more runs in 2017 without Fowler than they did in 2016 with him. I'll trade a left fielder for a controllable, inexpensive lefty starting pitcher every day of the week. I like Yelich too, but I hope they save their money and trade chips for pitching.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Everybody in baseball scored more runs last year. Relatively speaking, the Cubs were 9% over league average last year and 12% over league average in 2016. It was a pretty significant reduction in effectiveness.

    Yelich is a center fielder.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Also, if you look at the standard deviation, you'll notice they were a lot more inconsistent last year. 3.85 in 2017 and 3.05 in 2016. That fits with what we saw. Dex set the table well and got himself in position to score on a single from the big guys. leading to more consistent runs.

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    I liked Schwarber from the beginning. I think fans got impatient last year & felt he should have just come back from knee rehab fully the same guy he was before he got hurt. It doesn’t happen like that. Sure his knee was healthy to run again, but his baseball shape took a year off & it showed. And he still hit 30 bombs... I’m on the let him talk w/his bat train & prove he’s who Theo n Jed drafted with their 1st pick in the 1st round & be very happy that they didn’t trade him.

  • In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    That offer would not even come close to prying Yelich away from the Fish. You would probably need to start with Almora and Happ and one of their top pitching prospects to even get them to talk to you. Yelich has 5 years of control at an unbelievably low salary

  • In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    Cubs won't do that. They are not gonna move Almora.
    Shoot we have no idea how good Almora is gonna be!
    He's young! There is a lot of talent there. We have no idea what his ceiling is! AA is gonna be a superstar baseball player

  • Russell and Almora OR Happ for whatever we need. Young players
    are better

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    There not gonna move Russell or Happ. Happ is a first round pick,
    Russell is gonna be fixture at shortstop for the Cubs for 10 yrs. count on it

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Epstein spent yrs putting these young players together. He is not gonna trade away these gems for Chritian Yelich lol

  • Very nice pickup by retaining Duensing. RPs can fluctuate pretty wildly in quality from year to year, but if Duensing is close to the level he was last year, this bullpen is rock solid. He has a good setup man makeup, meaning he can put out fires with the best of them.

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    I love this deal. By the end of the season, Duensing was one of those guys (Davis and Strop) that would come in and I'd think, "Okay, this inning is over." And to get him on a relatively cheap deal is icing. Even if he falls apart, it doesn't hurt too much.

    Couple thoughts:
    -The new pitching regime may well make Justin Wilson the closer the Cubs thought they were getting, which would really sort out the bullpen.
    -I'm not sure that Greg Holland is off the table. The spring training is coming and he needs a job. He may well take the Dexter Fowler deal to have a job and build up some value. (Although I would personally want quite a deal to give up the pick/IFA money for him.)
    -I wouldn't sleep on Dillon Maples being an important part of the bullpen. I could see him becoming the setup man this year ahead of being the closer in 2019. The stuff is there. Command and confidence are all he lacks.
    -The length of the deals interests me. 2 year deals have a couple implications. First, they don't have a lot of risk in the likely event some of the bullpen pieces don't work as planned. Second, they could have expectations that the system is finally going to produce so they are clearing out big contracts for it. That would really be important for the next phase of the push. Particularly if the Cubs spend $40 million a year on a certain Kris Bryant buddy.

    Honestly, the Cubs FO has hit a home run on the bullpen this winter IMO. For virtually no commitment they've built a bullpen that should be able to hold leads. There is a lot of redundancy because you know one or two of those contracts are going to be duds. And they still have some money left so more can be added at the deadline if necessary. This is Team Theo at its very best.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    IMO Greg Holland and Kris Bryant buddy have a near zero chance of coming to the Cubs. No way the Cubs will want to spend 40 million per year for Harper.

  • In reply to John57:

    Could be. We already have Riz, Schwarbs, and Happ as power guys from the left side. I'm not saying that they compare with Harper, but I'm not sure that it's a huge need. Actually, Yelich more so feels like a need than the middle of the lineup. Of course, 29 other teams would like to have both as well.

  • In reply to John57:

    Zero chance for Harper? Paying for a free agent, everyday player, in his prime sure seems to fit Theo's MO. They might not get him, but I suspect there is a very good chance that they talk to him and make a serious offer.

    Now signing a reliever like Holland to a long-term contract, or trading from the core for a player like Yelich: yeah, those seem out of character to me. But who knows?

  • In reply to Cubswin09:

    Well, Yelich is a jewel. The kind that screams 'baseball player', the kind that one appreciates the more one sees of him. And as Moody noted, Christian has a value contract below his worth similar to Rizzo. He's not Harper, but just a notch below and is a way way way better value.

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    In reply to 44slug:

    IMO, they're different players with different purposes. Yelich is a true leadoff man/table setter which I believe the offense desperately missed last year. (They went out and got one before with Dexter but it's not everyday one is there in that much of a "gimme" trade.) Harper is a middle of the order beast who -- scarily enough -- STILL has upside. They both have a place on any team.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I like Yelich, but you'd have to trade players to get him, and that just has not been the Cubs pattern. Maybe that changes? But just listening to Theo, it sounds like they are going to try and get more pitching, if the price is right.

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    In reply to Cubswin09:

    They don't have the players to do it. It's just a pipe dream without the prospects.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Exactly. I would like him as well. But it isn't going to happen. Now i think you are right that they'll monitor a guy like Holland, and if does a Fowler-like 1-year deal, maybe that happens. Although i think a SP seems more likely.

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    The filter monster ate my homework.

  • Mike Montgomery is 5th starter. Sign Matt Albers if you cannot sign Arietta. Trade Russell and Almora for Christian Yelich. Happ to second with Zobrist. Heyward and Happ share center. Baez to shortstop. Terrific lineup. Slimmed down Schwarber catches along with Caratini. If Contreras gets hurt trade for another Avila or Rivera.

    Killer lineup scores 1000 runs. Cubs go to World Series. Go for Machado in 2019.

  • In reply to Swarf:

    Creative but risky. Plus, I'm not sure the Fish would be interested in that package.

  • Love this one that I recently heard: Trade Russell, Almora and Montgomery for Yelich and Kyle Barraclough, who has closer-type stuff. Then sign either Darvish, Arrieta, or Cobb. We have our leadoff hitter and a lockdown bullpen. Plus, Almora gets to play every day near his home in South Florida, Montgomery gets his wish and starts. And . . . Javy flashes the leather every day at short.

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    In reply to AJinLA:

    I can't see the Marlins taking that deal. If Yelich goes anywhere, they're getting a Top 10ish prospect back.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    If the Marlins trade their catcher(who wants out too) and the Cubs add Caratini, that might be enough for Yelich.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Wait a minute, I've g one over edge on this. If this in any way is in the cards it will play out without my speculation.

  • I love this site! I don't reply to much, but love listening to you goys!!! Just a thought to throw out there. How about Russell, Almora, Montgomery, and two or three minor league prospects for Yelich and Castro? Thoughts????

  • In reply to Jer Bear:

    I don't think so, too much water under the With Starlin.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    bridge

  • In reply to Jer Bear:

    So glad your not running the Cubs front office.
    Albert Amora, and Addison Russell may very well end up being perenial all stars for yrs to come. The Cubs are not gonna trade "one" of those young players for Christian Yelich

  • In reply to Holycow84:

    Seriously dude? We won the world series with these guys

  • In reply to Holycow84:

    I threw something out there that you don't agree with???? SO DUDE, it was just a thought just like everyone else puts out there!!!! So no I'm not running the front office, but I am a Cubs fan and like everyone else I have an opinion!!!!! Sorry you didn't like it!!!!

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    And dancing.

  • Nice piece. Largely my thoughts on Duensing, especially the lower walk rate. Can he have back-to-back good seasons for the first time in his career? Well, at least the price wasn't too high to find out.

    But I do disagree that the Cubs bullpen "is a deep and talented group of relievers." Perhaps for the regular season, but the post-season proved the bullpen to be one pitcher deep. We've replaced Davis and Strop with Morrow and Cishek. The new pair does have a lower walk rate, but it isn't an obvious improvement. And if Morrow succumbs to injury in the first half, it's back to the old mid-season scramble for arms in trade.

  • Question: Was the signing of Duensing, at a cost of $3.5m reducing the Cubs total cap space to $32m or so give or take the unreported other expenses, alongside Epstein's interview a signal to whomever the entire field to call if you are serious otherwise we are moving on. My guess is that it is always been Cobb because he leaves a good cushion for some moves that true opportunities will arise in the mid season. Duensing places the current aggregate bullpen near the MLB's best, My bet is that despite the arbitration it is grim for Grimm to remain here much longer.

  • I still believe if there is a trade, then it will be a Machado deal. I know most feel we need another starter. I believe we play the first half and, if necessary, Theo would get a starter at the break. The Cubs will have a 5+ game lead regardless, sonit will be about increasing post season chances to win the whole thing. I don’t believe the Cubs are in on Yellich and are not in on Jake or Yu at their asking current price. And i personally do not spend $20-$25+MM on either of them.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Yes, I think that you might be right about Yelich, Yu, and Jake. Machado could be in the same boat. I am tired of trying to make a trade for either work.

  • Everyone wants to trade 5-6 players for Yelich to play Cf? If they throw the brinks truck at Harper next season where does heyward play? No way it’s the bench? And no dam way he ops out.

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    In reply to Vinnie T:

    4th outfielder. Much like Barry Zito, middle relief.

  • In reply to Vinnie T:

    I would bet Heyward is traded where the Cubs eat half or about $8-$10 MM/year. Someone would take him at a $10MM/year number because if he produced 2 WAR then that team is ahead.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    One thing about Heyward is that he has worth just the way he is. The worse thing that could happen is that the Cubs end up with an overpaid forth outfielder.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Trade Heyward to the Marlins. Then he opts out. Problem solved.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    Hat would be he key — trade hi. To abteam he would likely opt out with. I haven’t looked at his list of teams he could be traded to after ‘18. Good Call.

  • A question for the wonks? How important is a lefty reliever? Is there a big statistical spread between righties hitting off lefties or lefties hitting off righties?
    This goes directly to the issue of Mike Montgomery taking the 5th starter slot. Do the Cubs need another lefty arm in the bullpen? How are Morrow, Cishek, Strop etc. againt left handed hitters? I think the Cubs should sign Matt Albers to possibly replace Grimm and shop for a pitcher in June or July if needed.

  • In reply to Swarf:

    I’m not a “wonk” but I’ll pass on Albers. He had a career year last year at 34, but the Cubs don’t need anymore RH or LH for that matter, middling relievers. They could use a closer or another really good set up & maybe a Darvish or Cobb. Contract & Hickey familiarity’s says Cobb... Gut feeling says Darvish.

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