jesse crain white soxThe Chicago Cubs’ bullpen search largely came to a close after they grabbed a much needed back-end arm (Jose Veras) and a second lefty (Wesley Wright) earlier this offseason, but that doesn’t mean they won’t continue exploring their options.

Bruce Levine reports that the Cubs are expressing interest in righty Jesse Crain, whom you might remember as a recently-dominant reliever with the White Sox. The Cubs, together with several teams says Levine, are reviewing Crain’s medicals. That’s a significant piece of any pursuit of Crain, of course, because he’s coming off of a serious shoulder injury.

Before the injury, Crain was all universe in 2013: 0.74 ERA, 2.7 BB/9, 11.3 K/9. The dude was worth 1.9 WAR(!) over just 36.2(!!!) innings. Although he is 32, Crain seemed to be getting better and better every year, and his mid-90s velocity was holding steady. Before 2013, he had cemented himself as one of the better setup men in the game.

Given the Cubs’ bullpen depth, the instinct is to wonder if the Cubs are considering Crain only as a minor league deal/non-roster invitee possibility. With the shoulder concerns – the injury ended his season in June, and shoulders are scary – it isn’t insulting to suggest a minor league deal. That said, maybe Crain’s medicals look good right now, and maybe plenty of teams are willing to bet a guaranteed deal on his shoulder holding up, given the talent. Indeed, Jon Morosi said last week that Crain was deciding whether to grab a two-year deal (while he can get it), or take a one-year deal (to rebuild his value).

As we’ve discussed increasingly over the last few weeks, the Cubs’ bullpen depth is reaching tremendous levels. The Cubs’ legitimate bullpen options presently go 10 deep: Jose Veras, James Russell, Wesley Wright, Pedro Strop, Carlos Villanueva (or Chris Rusin, depending on the rotation), Hector Rondon, Blake Parker, Justin Grimm, Zac Rosscup, and Brooks Raley. The typical bullpen includes seven guys, so, barring a trade or injury, that means someone like Parker or Grimm wouldn’t even make the pen at this point.

That list doesn’t include minor league deal/non-roster invite guys (some of whom, like Jonathan Sanchez, really do have a fair shot of making the pen as a specialist). And that doesn’t include rostered youngsters like Arodys Vizcaino, Alberto Cabrera, Neil Ramirez, and Dallas Beeler. And that doesn’t include Kyuji Fujikawa, who is expected back at midseason. There is depth, yo. Lots of it.

Could the Cubs add Crain? Sure. If talent is available at a reasonable price, you grab it. Do the Cubs need Crain to have a successful bullpen – or even to have enough flippable options? Not necessarily.

Is Crain worth getting on a big league deal for the Cubs? Without knowing the plans for some of the younger bullpen pieces, it’s hard to say. The Rondon/Parker/Grimm contingent, while exciting and full of upside, aren’t sure things. And, unlike Crain, they don’t come with inherent flippability (even though, technically, it’s not like you couldn’t trade them if they were dominating). To be clear: the Cubs’ bullpen is much better with a healthy Crain than without him.

I guess we’ll just monitor. I’ve got to believe Crain will find a better deal elsewhere, though.

  • Carew

    All this talk of interest in relievers is starting to lead me to believe that a trade is coming. That is just a hunch.

    • SenorGato

      I hope so. Dustin Ackley seems to be a man with no position in Seattle, and the Cubs sure could use some offense at 2B. There’s plenty more players, but I’ve really locked onto Ackley recently.

    • Johnathon

      I also am getting that hunch. David Price, anyone?

  • Edwin

    Crain seems like an interesting signing situation. If his shoulder is ok, then he’ll probably command enough interest that he might get priced out of the Cubs. If his shoulder isn’t ok, then he turns into more of a lottery pick, and then it turns into a problem of deciding how valuable a lottery pick he might be.

  • SenorGato

    I love the player, and I really like that they are attacking the bullpen. The bullpen crushed the team in the first half.

  • hansman

    Crain’s career usage makes Russell look lazy.

  • TulaneCubs

    I feel like people are understating Alberto Cabrera’s place in next year’s team. Cabrera is out of options, so if the Cubs wanted to send him to AAA, he’d have to be run through waivers first. He’d almost certainly be claimed. Unless he looks absolutely terrible in spring training, I think he’s a virtual lock to make the bullpen because I don’t think they’ll want to lose him.

    • C. Steadman

      i would agree…Cabrera could even be a 5th starter, but most likely bullpen

    • SenorGato

      I’m rooting for Cabrera to unseat someone for a bullpen job, but until he earns it there’s really nothing being understated.

      • TulaneCubs

        I don’t think he’ll have to unseat anyone. I think it’s the other way around, someone will have to unseat him.

        I’d be very, very surprised if he’s not in the pen to start the year.

        • SenorGato

          That seems off on the technicality that Cabrera isn’t occupying a seat on the 25 man right now.

          • TulaneCubs

            Is anyone occupying a seat on the 25 man roster right now? I can’t find anything on the web about the Cubs’ current 25 man roster.

            For all intents and purposes, the 25 man roster is really only relevant during the season anyway.

            • Brett

              Correct. There is no 25-man roster in the offseason. Only the 40-man roster.

  • Jason P

    I like the way the bullpen is coming together. If the Cubs want to overachieve next year, they’re going to need to win a lot of 1-run games, and to do that, you need a good bullpen.

  • David

    I want him.

  • Michael

    It’s always better to have too many good bullpen options than too few.

  • MikeW

    Parker’s making the team. Silly to suggest otherwise.

    • DavidC

      Yea, I thought it was wierd to suggest he could possibly miss out on the bullpen but not mention the same possibility with Rondon. Seems like Brett is greatly underestimating Parker, who was flat out excellent in 2013. I consider Parker, Strop, and Veras the heart of the bullpen right now.

    • Brett

      Parker has options left. In your quest to envision that I was ripping Parker – I wasn’t – you missed the point: adding another reliever to the mix makes for tricky decisions. And, in that scenario, Parker would absolutely be on the bubble. Not because Parker isn’t good. It’s because he comes with flexibility (and was merely an example).

      I don’t suggest silly things, unless I’m being silly.

      • Bret Epic

        I see where you’re coming from. I think some fans become defensive (myself included) because Parker has been seemingly underestimated over the past couple years. Looking at his stats now, he was even more “lights out” than I had remembered.

      • MikeW

        Brett – he was our best reliver last year. He’s not missing the team unless he gets hurt.

    • SenorGato

      Parker’s 28% GB rate makes him way less of a slam dunk than his K rate suggests.

      • Bret Epic

        Pitchers with low ground ball rates can be scary, but his HR/9 was only 0.8 last year. Not quite as scary when the ball isn’t leaving the park, but it’s still something to look into. Change of subject, but by the way, I just registered on the site. I thought it was gonna be a real pain in the neck, but it seriously took like a minute. If you haven’t yet, doing so isn’t a bad idea. Only complicated part is finding where it says on the page, so I’d advise using control f (PC) or command f (Mac) the words “Register for BN.”

        • SenorGato

          His batted balls suggest he got lucky there IMO. Lots of line drives and fly balls = lots of opportunity for XBHs.

          • Bret Epic

            Could be, but he didn’t seem to give up a lot of HR/9 in his minor league career either. Some pitchers are just more fly ball oriented.

      • SenorGato

        I see him as more Shawn Camp’s replacement (and upgrade) than the 7-9 guy on a very good or better team. Great run in 2013 but not alot of things that makes me think he’ll do it again.

        • Bret Epic

          I can see the correlation. Fortunately, Parker throws a little bit faster. Either way, I could see him as a “ceiling” closer, but more likely a regular relief guy that alternates between the 7th and 9th inning. I’d much rather put Parker in there during any given situation than Kameron Lowe, that’s for sure.

  • Steve

    Picking up a reliever like Jesse Crain is exactly what the Cubs’ bullpen has needed for years. With all this statistical analysis, there’s two things that I use to quickly judge a pitcher’s value: innings pitched to hits surrendered and strikeouts to walks ratio. In every one of Crain’s previous 10-major league seasons, he has doubled strikeouts to walks and pitched more innings to the amount of hits he has given up. He’d be a perfect 8th inning pitcher and then let Veras or Strop close out the game in the 9th.

  • cubfanincardinalland

    Look at the difference in the pitching in this organization. Two years ago you had guys like Manny Corpas, Scott Maine, Jeff Beliveau, Jaye Chapman, and Rodrigo Lopez coming into ball games.
    It gets so frustrating waiting to win some meaningful games, but these guys really do know what they are doing in acquiring talented players.

  • YourResidentJag
  • nkniacc13

    Be interesting to see because of the players that have options left that could allow cubs so flexability with a signing like this. I also agree that a signing like this could allow a trade to happen easier.

  • Ballgame

    First off, Happy Holidays to everyone. Even the prospect of adding Crain is very intriguing. If the Cubs sign him, then there’s certainly going to be some interesting decisions to be made. This is the type of situation that would be ideal for the prospects in a few years as well. Just too many good players for the amount of roster spots available. If the Cubs could somehow sign Tanaka and they end up keeping Samardzija for the beginning of the season, our pitching staff would be pretty damn legit.

    1. Tanaka
    2. Samardzija
    3. T. Wood
    4. EJax
    5. Arrieta

    6. Crain (if he signs)
    7. Veras
    8. Wright
    9. Russell
    10. Strop
    11. Villanueva
    12. Cabrera
    13. Parker

    **I know 13 pitchers aren’t ever on one team staff, but I’d be really excited to see what can happen in the first 6 weeks of the season. If I remember correctly, even when the Cubs went 10+ games under .500, they still had a positive run-differential. That’s a LOT of close-game losses. I’m just becoming more and more intrigued. Now, imagine trading for Kemp and signing Tanaka. I think they’d at least have a chance of competing into Aug/Sept. If Baez/Bryant get called up and continue to tear it up, you never know.

    • Jimmy James

      What’s going on with Scott baker? I thought he would be back in the fold by now…..

  • josh ruiter

    I see a lot of upside in keeping Grimm at AAA to open the year/give him a chance to win the final starters spot. Between him/Arrieta hopefully one takes the job and runs. I think Grimm has a ton of upside yet (he was a highly ranked prospect like 1.5 years ago). He was rushed by Texas when they were in need and he suffered from it. He could still turn into a 3/4/5 if he has a chance. Then after a half year or a bit more re-evaluate and decide what you have…either a young guy ready to take a bullpen spot or a young starter with promise. Arrieta probably has this spring to prove it and that is about it. He has gotten every opportunity and hasn’t put it together, but he too could be a good BP arm as well.

  • Blackhawks1963

    A pen of Veres, Villenueva, Strop, Russell, Rondon, Wright and Crain would be upgrade over last year. Plus some okay depth sitting in Iowa with Parker, Rosscup.

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