It 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.
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.