Wednesday night, the Chicago Cubs made their first real free agent signing of the off season, and many fans were left unimpressed. While other teams are making trades for key players such as Prince Fielder or Ian Kinsler, and others are signing players to contracts like Jacoby Ellsbury, the Cubs went ahead and signed a middle reliever. With the Cubs needing to rework the bullpen, the signing of left handed reliever Wesley Wright was their first move.
With Wright being left handed, you would assume that his presence would take some weight off of James Russell’s shoulders and ease his workload. Having that second left hander in the pen can be very valuable, and allow you to use one of them for one tough left handed hitter while saving the other for an important inning if need be.
Last season, spending time with both the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays Wright had some respectable numbers, especially considering he was pitching in the American League’s East and West Divisions. In his 70 games in 2013 Wright had a 3.69 ERA with a 1.36 WHIP. More impressive was his 55 strikeouts to only 19 walks, and only giving up seven home runs over 53.2 innings
With Russell’s performance last season, Cubs fans saw him go down hill. In years past he was one of the more reliable relievers in the bullpen, but last season we saw a crack in his armor. The theory was that he was over worked the previous few years because of his dependability, and the hope is with easing his work load he will be able to rebound into his previous form. Adding Wright will give him the opportunity to prove that last year was a fluke, and in a more limited role he can once again be that reliable force the Cub fans knew he was when he was finally moved into the bullpen.
Of course, there is always the chance that Wright’s signing might mean something else. With the Cubs adding Wright to the bullpen, that also leaves the door open to the possibility of Russell being traded. Having two lefties in the bullpen is a huge help, but perhaps not mandatory. With Russell drawing interest from teams last June and July before the trade deadline, with Wright now in the fold the Cubs might dangle Russell to other teams to see what the interest level is. While he may have lost some value last season, major league teams are always looking for left handed pitching. That is why if you are a left handed pitcher, you likely have a job in baseball for as long as you want one, assuming that you can actually get guys out.
Personally, I would keep both pitchers as I do not think that the Cubs will be able to get much of anything back for Russell as he is not a dominating reliever. I am, not sure how much the Cubs would have gotten for him at the trade deadline before his mid season slide.
The addition of Wright does improve the bullpen, however. One would assume the bullpen is just about completed now. To go along with the left handed pitchers Wright and Russell, you also have Pedro Strop, who many would look at as a potential closing candidate for the 2014 season. Another pitcher who will likely be in the bullpen and in the mix for the closers role will be Kyuji Fujikawa who many fans might have forgotten about since he disappeared rather early last season. Those are the four most likely pitchers who will be guaranteed a spot in the bullpen, from there we can only guess.
Blake Parker might have earned a spot in the bullpen with his work last season, and Hector Rondon might also get a few looks. Carlos Villanueva, if he does not win a spot in the 2014 starting rotation will also be in the mix for a job. The wild card might well be Arodys Vizcaino who the Cubs might be waiting to see how his arm responds in Spring Training before making any final decision on him. If he is fully healthy and ready to go, he is another pitcher who could get looks as the 2014 closer.
These eight pitchers, in my mind are the most likely to fill out the bullpen for the 2014 Cubs, though you cannot rule out either Brooks Raley or Chris Rusin who likely will get looks to fill both the bullpen and the starting rotation.
While many fans may scoff at the signing of Wright, remember that the bullpen was seen as the weakest spot on the ball club in 2013. The pen blew many games for the starters, not just Carlos Marmol, but just about everyone in that pen blew a few games that could have gotten the Cubs closer to a .500 record.
Wright may not be a flashy signing, but he could very well go a long way to fixing something that many thought to be broken beyond repair.
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