jesse crain white soxI’m not saying Jesse Crain made no sense for the 2014 Chicago Cubs, but, after picking up Pedro Strop, Jose Veras, Justin Grimm and Wesley Wright in the past six-ish months, coupled with second half emergence of Blake Parker and Hector Rondon, the Cubs’ bullpen is projecting to be in much better shape this April than it was last April. Adding Crain to the mix would have been interesting, to be sure, but a tricky fit. There was a rumor that the Cubs were considering him.

In the end, there’s no tricky fit to be contemplated, as Crain has signed with his hometown (well, college) Houston Astros on a one-year deal. Terms of the agreement haven’t yet been released, but it would make sense if there was a low base salary involved, and a number of incentives. Crain is coming off of a serious shoulder injury that ended his dominant 2013 season early, and might cause him to miss a little time to start the 2014 season. He’s probably looking to rebuild his value in a year with the low-leverage Astros before hitting the open market again for a bigger score.

At this point, when it comes to the bullpen, I wouldn’t expect the Cubs to add anyone on a guaranteed deal (unless a trade precedes such a signing), and they might not pick up many more minor league deal/non-roster invite types – they’ve already got several. You can bank on a couple of those types near the end of the offseason, as they can’t find big league deals, but that’s probably all we’ll see the rest of the way in the bullpen.

The caveat here is that, if and when the Cubs add another starting pitcher – Masahiro Tanaka or a lesser option like Scott Baker – we’ll see guys like Carlos Villanueva and Chris Rusin ticketed for the bullpen, if they stick around for Opening Day.

  • bobdawg78

    I wouldn’t have any problem at all seeing Villanueva and Russell being traded before the regular season. Villanueva has value as a back end of the rotation guy, or a long reliever/spot starter. Russell is a solid lefty with team control. I’d like to see Rusin take over Villanuevas role as a spot starter/long reliever. Russell to me for some reason seems like he might have a down year due to over use, and might possibly get hurt. That’s why I’m all for moving him while he has solid value right now.

    • Mike Taylor

      I agree. Saving $6.7M on trading Villanueva and Russell before the season starts creates competition in Spring Training among their replacements. We still need a “starting” outfielder; I’d target George Springer or Corey Dickerson.

      • ChiMike702

        I don’t mind moving those guys if they can get future pieces but at this rate the payroll is going to be one of the lowest in baseball.

        You’re right Cubs need an OF bat desperately. I don’t think people realize just how bad the line up is looking at the moment.

      • Norm

        Why in the world would HOU trade George Springer?

    • woody

      I think we should part ways with Russell for sure. Sveum had a tendancy to fall in love so to speak with a particular reliever and Russell was one of those. In my opinion Villanueva was under used in a relief capacity. Russell is rapidly following Camp into oblivion.

    • The Instructor

      Just curious what signals a possible down year and what enables someone to predict injury? Russell is very solid lefty why move him? Seems like just the kind of arm we need coming out of the pen!

      • woody

        I don’t have statistics to put out there, but I watch nearly every game the cubs play and Russell hit a rough stretch last year. Many attribute it to being over worked and maybe that is true. It’s just a vibe that I feel. Remember how Camp had a good year in 2012 and was horrible in 2013. I fear that Russell may do the same. I can’t imagine the feeling that Samardzija and Wood must have felt last year when they pitched game after game of good baseball, only to see the pen throw it away. Or in many cases they gave up maybe two runs only to be shut out due to an impotent offense. I got really frustrated last year when Dale would bring Villanueva into the game and take him out the next inning when he had put the batters down in order. Villanueva is supposed to be long reliever. I can see lifting him for a pinch hitter, but it seemed like Dale wanted to use as many guys as possible. Like a different guy every inning. I can’t count how many times we had a lead and the reliever walked the leadoff man. I really hope that Renteria can manage the bull pen more effectively. I woulld rather see a pitcher give up two base hits rather than walk two guys. At least a ball in play is a potential out.

        • Lukas

          For future reference, it’s best to bring stats to back up an argument. The fact that you watched a bunch of games really means nothing.

          • CubFan Paul

            Where your stats to disprove what he saw?

            • Lukas

              Nothing to disprove…..I was only saying that it’s ridiculous to think you should get rid of a player simply because of “a vibe” he feels when watching him. Use the numbers to make those decisions.

              • CubFan Paul

                “Nothing to disprove”

                When you come with a d*ck-headed “For future reference” blast it’s best to bring stats to back up your argument.

            • mjhurdle

              What stats are there to disprove an individual’s “vibe”?

              Pretty sure that is Lukas’ point. If you want people to treat your opinion seriously, it is good to back it up with something more than “i watched games and got these weird vibes”. No one can prove that someone did or didn’t get those vibes, but the fact that someone “got vibes” has really no relevance to anyone but the person that “got vibes”. To use it in an argument is the equivalent of saying “just because”.

              • CubFan Paul

                “What stats are there to disprove an individual’s “vibe”?”

                The number of games he watched doesn’t count? Watching film is part of the equation too.

                Not being able to describe something that he’s knowledgeable about with words, doesn’t make his opinion invalid or less than yours when you still have no stats to disprove what he’s sees

                • mjhurdle

                  You seem to really be struggling with the difference between the (actual) right to an opinion and the (non-existent) right to have your opinion treated seriously.

                  I respect Woody’s right to believe that Russell will have a Camp like season based on an un-determined number of games watched and a vibe.
                  However, I am also not going to take an opinion like that very seriously. It makes a vague statement based on no facts. Why am I going to spend time trying to “disprove” what he sees, when he can’t even articulate what he is seeing? I wouldn’t even know what I would be disproving.

                  And to answer your question, no. The number of games watched counts for absolutely nothing when attempting to persuade someone. I could watch every single baseball game every year, and that would still fail to give me any credibility if I said that Chris Volstad should have won the Cy Young in 2013.

                  • CubFan Paul

                    Woody knows more than you.

                    • mjhurdle

                      maybe, but i ate chili last night and now i got a vibe that i am the smartest Cub fan ever.

                    • CubFan Paul

                      “now i got a vibe that i am the smartest Cub fan ever”

                      I feel the same way after watching a season’s worth of games

                • Lukas

                  I wasn’t trying to disprove anything……only saying it’s probably best to use meaningful data to reach a conclusion. Not gut feelings. Those are most likely inaccurate.

                  • CubFan Paul

                    “I wasn’t trying to disprove anything”

                    So you were just being an internet jerk. Got it.

                    • Lukas

                      If you’d rather make your decisions based on vibes and the “eyeball” test, be my guest. You’ll be wrong a lot.

                    • EQ76

                      Lukas, have you ever actually played the game of baseball? not a computer game, but the actual, physical game?

                    • Lukas

                      Yes I played baseball for many years, that’s a good part of why I know your eyes can deceive you.

                  • CubFan Paul

                    “If you’d rather make your decisions based on vibes and the “eyeball” test, be my guest. You’ll be wrong a lot”

                    Scouting. Film. Disprove it all, why don’t you.

                    • Lukas

                      I must have said scouting and watching film was useless somewhere. Can you point it out for me so I can go back and fix it?

        • woody

          For what it’s worth I am not an actuary or a statistician. Simply a cub fan and a guy that really enjoys the game of baseball. I think that the purpose of this blog is to share news and “OPINION” for open discussion in a respectful way. I stated that I didn’t have statistics and my opinion was based on what I had seen and a “vibe” which maybe would be better explained a a gut feeling. I noticed that the word “argument” was used and that I should have stats to back up my argument. If I was making an argument then maybe that should be the case. Buy since I was simply expressing my opinion I will leave it there and move on.

          • CubFan Paul

            This board needs more people like you (people who watch nearly every game)

  • baldtaxguy

    Tricky fit is a good description. He would have been a nice add but the pen is so full. It will be fun to watch the ultimate makeup of the pen and how it performs early – can’t be worse then last season.

  • The one who knocks

    Testing 1-2-3-4. Is this thing on?

  • rcleven

    Rule #1 Always make your self better at a reasonable cost.
    Haven’t seen the Crain contract terms but if healthy he is still better than 2/3 of the existing pen options that exist.
    For a reasonable cost I would welcome him with open arms.

  • abe

    I am surprised he only got a 1 year deal.

    • Brett

      I think that may have been all he wanted right now (since no one was going to give him a huge money multi-year deal – probably just a cheapo two-year deal).

    • Chiburgh

      It’s a build value signing.

  • 1ski

    I could not find who brought up cubs den yesterday but thank you very much.

  • notcubbiewubbie

    glad to be alive again as a poster!! Happy New Year!

  • gcheezpuff

    The bullpen looks to be much improved and the rotation should be good enough if they can keep shark and really good if they can sign Tanaka, but I’d still like to see them bring in at least 1 descent power bat. Maybe they are expecting some rebounds and Olt to break camp?

  • Victory of the People

    Looks like the Cubs pitching staff will be above average. Now we need some of those hitting prospects to make it to the bigs.

  • rob

    Test Post

  • bobdawg78

    The reason I think Russell might have a down year, or potentially get hurt, is because I remember reading about RP, and being over used in consecutive seasons. Eyre and Howry were the ones that stood out to me, because we signed both of them after they had been over used repeatedly. Then they had their down year or two due to injury or arm fatigue (dead arm).

    Russell has been among the league leaders in RP the last few years, and towards the end of last season, he was starting to pitch very poorly due to arm fatigue. Look at Marshall of the Reds, he just had his injury/down year last year, after being used a ton the previous few years.

    If Russell isn’t moved, I hope I’m wrong, and he does fine. It just seems like in recent memory how ever that this trend of excess RP appearances in consecutive seasons there seems to be problems in some way or another with the pitcher.

    • Scotti

      Marmol should be the guy standing out to you. Fantastic stuff and j u s t enough command to dominate… Then he threw, IIRC, the most pitches in MLB relief for three years running (not to mention awful usage patterns like three days straight, four of five days, etc.). That crap really affects an arm. His slider went from plus, plus to just plus and he lost major velocity and confidence in his FB. He started nibbling with everything (he used to nibble a lot then he started nibbling constantly).

      Now imagine what happens to someone who doesn’t have two plus, plus pitches. Not pretty. Russell may bounce back. He may not. They usually don’t. But ther other 29 GMs all know this too.

  • CubsFanSaxMan

    Now is the time to trade Russell. His value will never be higher. Fans hated to see Marshall go, but now that is perceived as a good trade. The same could happen with Russell. Villanueva is a valuable piece as he is versatile, although I think he is better in relief (except in April). But we would not miss him if he was traded either. Get something while the getting is good. The bullpen has never been deeper. Now is the time to act (trade wise).

  • Picklenose

    NPR reports over 300 sharks on twitter in Australia. I did not know that the Cubs were so popular over there.

  • JulioZuleta.1

    I am rather perturbed to report that someone registered the name “JulioZuleta” on wordpress. We have a name-stealing scoundrel in our community.

    • JulioZuleta

      Aaannnddd I’m an idiot. I forgot that I had registered “JulioZuleta” for a different site a year or so ago and never used it. Nothing to see here.

  • beab

    Let’s just close our eyes and wait for 2016 or so it seems much easier that way. I’m still a fan of bring up the young guys with the manager that you just hired. Turns out there really isn’t a good shot of finishing .500 again throw Russell until he has to get a hair cut and work a 9-5 ( could be sooner than later). Trade a couple of our never ending infielders on the farm that we won’t ever get to see in the show anyways because we will pick up half the guys put on waivers this year. Let’s just hope we don’t have our best outfielders in Iowa for most of the year again! All I’m saying is we can’t keep trading for prospects and never see them. Everyone else bring the young guys up…let’s see if the can cut the mustard so we don’t have to follow the Smokies more than the cubs

  • coondawg

    I love the fact that our bullpen should be a strength!!

  • Norm

    When did Russell become so overrated?

    I’m guilty as well, thought he was much better that what his statistics reflect, but he’s a LOOGY. Easily replaceable.

    • Kyle

      Russell had a few years of extremely fortunate HR/FB ratios which kept his ERA way below his peripherals. It evened out last year.

      Agree that he is extremely replaceable and overrated.

      • Scotti

        Per BR, Russell had his 2nd best HR/FB ratio (HR hit on FB and not LD) last year of his 4 seasons:

        2010 – 11 / 77
        2011 – 11 / 103
        2012 – 05 / 83
        2013 – 06 / 76

        • Kyle

          Baseball Reference calculates that in a weird way. But I was misremembering how long Russell got away with things. It was mostly just the one year, 2012.

          • Brett

            After the move to the pen in 2011, he was solid. It was a good year and a half, results-wise.

            • Kyle

              The ERA was there, but even in the pen he had a 4.18 xFIP.

            • Scotti

              If you factor mid-May 2011 (when he was done starting (his relief ERA all season was 2.19) to June of 2013 (2 runs in 20.2 IP (or 0.87 ERA) in April/May) that’s just over two full seasons. He had decent stuff (nothing plus) with plus control and plus command. That’s a useful piece but he was overused and had a tough four months to end last year. Here’s hoping his arm bounces back.

    • Fishin Phil

      I think the reason Russell might have been overrated is because we were comparing him to the rest of the dreck in the Cubs bullpen at the time.

      • DarthHater

        Marmol made his teammates look good.