Even after signing Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa to a two-year deal (pending physical), the Chicago Cubs aren’t done trying to improve a bullpen that was comically bad at times last year.
According to Bruce Levine, the Cubs are talking with a number of relievers’ agents today, and Bruce mentions former Pirates late-inning reliever Jason Grilli, specifically.
I read earlier this offseason that Grilli was receiving interest from teams as a closer, which would certainly fall into the Cubs’ presumed plans to (1) move Carlos Marmol, and then (2) create new value by making a non-closer into a closer. Fujikawa would seem to partially fill that hole, but as Jed Hoyer said just a couple days ago, the Cubs would be happy to have a number of options in the pen who can close.
As for Grilli, he’s 36 and coming off a career year (each of which, to me, screams red flag when it comes to a middle reliever – but I digress). He put up a 2.91 ERA and 1.142 WHIP over 58.2 innings while striking out 13.8(!) per 9. He was arguably one of the best relievers in baseball last year, and has really reinvented himself in the last two years in Pittsburgh after suffering a severe knee injury before the 2010 season.
So, hey, you know his stuff works in the NL Central, at least.
Grilli is certainly an interesting short-term option, particularly as someone who could take over the closer’s job, perform well, and perhaps become a flippable asset. On the other hand, given his extremely strong performance (relatively out of nowhere – before 2011, he hadn’t been a modestly successful reliever since 2008), I could see him being a fairly expensive bullpen addition, even without a long-standing track record of success.
I suppose it would all depend on the contract with a guy like Grilli, but I’m thinking he’s going to get the kind of deal that, if given by the Cubs, would harken back to the days of Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry – a shiny late-inning reliever, coming off a career year or two, in his 30s, and given a multi-year deal that ends up biting the Cubs in the ass.
… which is a completely unfair thing to say, given that every player is different. Still, I’m wary of big money deals for middle relievers, who, often by definition, have found their way into middle relief because they weren’t good enough/hearty enough to start, and weren’t dominant enough to be closers.
I’m down with the Cubs improving the bullpen, and I’m down with upside plays like Fujikawa, who come on reasonable deals. We’ll just see what happens.
At present, outside of James Russell and Shawn Camp (and Fujikawa when he finally signs), the Cubs have no certainties in the pen. There are a number of young arms who will compete for a bullpen spot in the Spring, but the Cubs certainly won’t be displacing anyone by signing a quality veteran arm. So there’s that.