james russell cubsIt seems like a perpetual quest: the Chicago Cubs are looking for a left-handed reliever.

For a few years now, the Cubs’ bullpen has been relatively bereft of left-handed talent outside of James Russell (marking one of the two reasons (the other being an overall lack of quality depth) Russell has been so overused the last two years). And, each offseason, the Cubs go shopping for another lefty, having generally landed just a minor league signing or two.

Left-handed relief talent is cheap, relative to the big contracts you see given out, but is disproportionately expensive, given the limited utility a LOOGY offers. Still, it’s a need, especially as a seven-man bullpen becomes the norm.

Carrie Muskat notes today that the Cubs are once again shopping for a lefty reliever – no surprise there – and links to an MLB.com piece on the possible lefties out there. It’s an interesting read.

While there are a number of intriguing, effective options, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cubs go after someone like Eric O’Flaherty. Formerly one of the most effective lefties in the game, O’Flaherty is coming back from, you guessed it, Tommy John surgery. He had the operation in May, and, although the return timeline for relievers is usually a little shorter than for starters (there are never any guarantees, though, as we’ve learned), expecting him to contribute before May 2014 is probably too ambitious. Still, there could be a fair bit of value there, depending on how willing other teams are to take a chance. O’Flaherty turns 29 in February, and would have commanded a significant contract absent the injury.

Others who might intrigue the Cubs include J.P. Howell, a reliever to whom they were connected for much of the 2013 offseason before he signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers. Howell, 30, put up a 2.03 ERA over 62 innings with the Dodgers, and could now be looking to cash in. Boone Logan, 29, looks to be on the upswing, with a 3.04 K/BB over the last three years (including a 10.9 K/9).

Compared with past years, the market for lefty relievers looks to be a bit more robust than we’ve become accustomed to. For that reason, the Cubs may elect to be patient, looking to scoop up value that doesn’t find a home before January. Alternatively, with a number of arms on the market, the Cubs may target the one or two that they really like, and look to jump before the cream of the crop can sort itself out.

This entire process plays out against the backdrop of Russell being a potentially valuable trade commodity for the Cubs, having put in three consecutive solid seasons as a reliever (you can throw out the five starts in 2011), and with two years of cheap control remaining.

If the Cubs move Russell, they’d likely have to fill at least one lefty spot in-house. Among those options are Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley, who may not last as starters in the bigs. There is also Zac Rosscup, who was dominant in the minors last year.

  • Jim

    What about Brooks Raley? Why not give him a full shot?

    • jay

      Um, because he’s pretty bad?

  • Idaho Razorback

    Memories of Mike Remlinger.

  • TWC

    I wonder if John Grabow would take another $7m/2yr contract? Last time around he was totally worth it.

  • Chad

    This is more about the bullpen in general than lefty’s, but who in the minors can contribute right now to the BP:

    Cabrera (or are they still trying to make him a starter?)
    Grimm- probably stay in Iowa to work on starting

    Who are locks from last year to be in the BP?

    Seems like we have a lot of in system talent that could be feasible in the bullpen. Maybe not. Just curious how everyone sees this situation playing out internally

    • Kyle

      Add Lim and Zych to that list.

      I don’t know how much of it will turn out to be good, but we do have a *ton* of interesting arms for the pen. It feels like a waste of our limited resources to be going out and getting anyone.

      • Chad

        I have never been a fan of signing FA relievers. Seems like you can find guys at minimal contracts in the minors that fit the bill. I think the same goes for the cubs. I think Vizcaino’s future is the BP. I think Rusin would be a good option as well, but I think he might get a shot at the rotation this season depending on what shakes out over the next few months. I did not see Rosscup pitch much this year so I’m not sure if he can get it done or not. But there are a lot of fringe arms that could make BP arms for sure without spending much. My biggest question is on Cabrera.

        I think he could be a good end of the game arm (similar to Vizcaino) but apparently the cubs like him as a starter and he was average to good at AA this year? Still curious what their plans are for him.

        Finally, I’m a fan of trading Russel (ala Marshall deal). If he can bring a similar package back that is win win for the cubs. I would guess a dead line deal for him this year if he pitches well.

  • Patrick G


  • Steve Ontiveros’ Mustache

    I like Rosscup in the pen in 2014 and beyond a lot more than Rusin or Raley. I suspect the best we could expect from Rusin or Raley is a swing pitcher like Villanueva, and even that might be a stretch. More likely AAA depth is their fate until better prospects come up.

    • Kyle

      I think Rusin has shown enough to me that he’d be just fine in the second lefty role in a bullpen. That’s not exactly high praise, but if you want to find him a spot in the MLB roster, he’s probably worth it.

      • Jim

        I think Rusin has showed enough to be in the starting rotation. I hope they give him a fair shot next year.

        • Edwin

          The Cubs might consider him, but his results don’t lead me to be too optimistic about him sticking in the rotation. He’s probably best suited for a lefty specialist/long man position.

          • ssckelley

            Rusin may end up in the bullpen but I think he pitched well enough down the stretch this past season to get another look.

            • Edwin

              In 20 GS for his career he has a FIP of 4.78 and an ERA of 4.69. His minor league numbers are ok, but they don’t really stand out. He just turned 27, so I’m not projecting much development.

              I agree that they’ll give him another look, because he’d be a cheap 7th starter/bullpen arm, I just don’t think he earns a starting spot in spring training.

              Who knows though. I didn’t think Wood be as good last year either (althouh Wood’s past track record is much better than Rusin’s). I guess anything is possible.

              • ssckelley

                Aw come on, looking at his career stats without acknowledging his improvement this past summer is ridicules. Yes, he looked horrible in 2012 but so did a lot of others on that team. Rusin damn near made the starting rotation last spring and should get another shot next spring.

                • Edwin

                  I’m not just looking at his career stats. I’m also looking at his minor league stats. Even the improved 2013 version of Rusin still only had a FIP of 4.75. Amongst qualified starters in the NL last season that would have put him dead last, with Ian Kennedy being the next closest with a 4.59 FIP. He just turned 27, so I’m not sure how much more he’ll develope.

              • willis

                If Rusin is in the starting rotation this year to begin with, it’s going to be worse than we are expecting. The Cubs need another starter for that 5th spot. Rusin is ok in a tough spot to fill in, but he isn’t good enough to be an effective starting pitcher for a major league team.

                I also love Rosscup and think he should have a leg up on about anyone for a LH role in the 2014 pen. He was lights out in the minors and showed pretty well in Chicago. I love his stuff and really think he can be (if not this year) a solid lefty reliver for the Cubs for years to come.

  • Kyle

    I look at Russell’s stuff and stat line, and I think maybe the problem isn’t overuse. The problem is that he was never really that good but got some HR/FB rate luck and rode that to two useful seasons.

  • MichiganGoat

    I’m worried for Russell he was used more than any other pitcher in baseball (appearances) in the last two years and that arm has to be exhausted. We need somebody else to take half of his appearances and hopefully RR does over use relievers like Sveum did.

  • Spriggs

    Would like to see Boone Logan on the Cubs

    • ssckelley

      Are the Yankees going to let him walk? He has another year of arbitration left as a Super 2.

  • MikeW

    I’d just as soon give the job to Rusin or Rosscup than spend money here.

    • willis

      Completely agree. Would rather the money go somewhere else because there are some in house options that are just fine.

  • http://Bleachernation Lou Brock

    Once Rule V lists are posted for all ML teams the Cubs may target that lefty they are looking for in the pen. There should be some better options on that list instead of overspending in FA.

  • Teddy Ballgame

    I can only see them signing a lefty-reliever to a friendly contract which probably doesn’t happen. The Cubs do have a lot of in-house options that I think can create a solid bullpen…

    -Vizcaino (hopefully by ASB)

    **That’s a pretty good start and as we all remember, had Marmol not blown 7 games in the first 6 weeks of the season it may have been a fun semi-competitive season. I try and remember ’03 and ’98 when no one thought the Cubs had a chance to compete and they made the pplayoffs. Get off to a hot start and ya never know…

    • cub2014

      if you arent going to compete this year?
      (which drives me nuts) why not let:
      Raley,Rosscup even Rusin compete for
      the 2nd lefty reliever role? Especially Rusin
      he is your lefty spot starter to go with Villanueva
      as your righty spot starter.

      I assume they will sign at least 1 starter, so Rusin
      wont be counted on in the rotation to start the

    • cub2014

      Bullpen is setting up pretty good:
      1. sign a closer!
      2. strop
      3. parker
      4. villanueva
      5. grimm or rondon
      6. russell
      7. rosscup, rusin or raley

      injured: dolis.fujikawa,vizcaino
      others: lim,cabrera, (bard & rodriguez?)

      • terencemann

        Lim will probably be the closer early in spring training. That was the whole point of signing him, I think.

        I think Bard will be non-tendered. He’s not helping himself in winter ball.

        • TheDondino

          Fujikawa was signed with the intent of him being the closer, not Lim.

  • MightyBear

    I still think Rusin can be an effective starter. I wouldn’t move him to the bullpen yet. I wouldn’t trade Russell yet unless the offer is a blown away type.

    • CeeDeeVee

      I agree..I think Rusin still has room to grow. I think at worst he’s a number 4 or 5 starter.

      • terencemann

        Yeah, I just don’t see a reason not to send him to AAA again and let him be a call-up for the rotation when somebody gets injured.

  • itzscott

    If the Cubs trade Russell, do they get the same return as they got for Marshall?

    • Kyle

      Not even in the same ballpark.

      • Spriggs

        Maybe the same ballpark – a year ago? When many people were still under the illusion that he was excellent and arguably among the best in the league.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      No. Although Russell offers an additional year of control, Marshall was a top 5 reliever in the game. Russell is just a very good reliever who happens to be left-handed.

      • Kyle

        I don’t think there’s much to support the idea that Russell is a very good reliever. He had very good superficial stats for about a hundred innings, but the peripherals have been meh and so is the stuff.

      • Edwin

        Even the Very Good part is debatable. Russell’s FIP over the past 3 seasons as a RP is 3.82. His FIP against LH is a nice 3.28. Those are ok, but compared to other RP, they’re not special.

        • YourResidentJag


  • Jono

    O’Flaherty was DAMN good before the injury. I had him on my fantasy teams a couple years back as an injury replacement, then kept him when my closer came back. I mean, the injury changes the situation, but if he gets back close form, he’ll be awesome

  • http://Cubs.com Ronnie

    I like Rusin he looks like a clone of Jamie Moyer soft thrower who gets people out
    I think he could be a keeper

    • Edwin

      Rusin hasn’t really gotten people out though.

      • cub2014

        left handers batted .200 against Rusin so
        I would say he certainly gets lefties out.

    • Spriggs

      I’d say more of a clone of John Koronka.

      • YourResidentJag

        Wow, haven’t heard that name in a while. 😉

  • Die hard

    That’s the solution– get a lefty reliever and make the playoffs– not to worry about a team WAR of 1.35

  • DocPeterWimsey

    At the risk of seeming facetious, when is an MLB team ever *not* looking out for a left-handed reliever?

    • Spriggs

      When they already have a couple good ones?

      • Die hard

        A lefty reliever pitching 5-7 pitches every other day will have about as much impact on wins and losses as a new WGN announcer

        • Spriggs

          Well if you have 2 of them, then it’s more like 2 WGN announcers.

        • mjhurdle


  • SenorGato

    I’ve been thinking the Cubs would be interested in O’Flaherty, Howell, and Logan. I thought Logan was a secret, but it is hard to hide a 6’7″ lefty with a mid-90’s fastball.

    Hopefully this means they’re looking to make some trades as Russell would be freed up to move (or not).

  • Die hard

    Ruiz off the market .. Wieters value just went up

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