The bullpen and rotation were touched on a fair bit at yesterday’s press conference. Among the salient bits …
- Jose Veras is the Cubs’ closer. Rick Renteria said it yesterday, as he did at the Convention, so you can commit it to memory. Veras in the closer role is probably as much about him having past success closing (and projecting to have continued success there) as it is about the closer’s role having been part of the sales pitch to bring him on board in the first place on a very reasonable one-year, $4 million deal (plus $5.5 million team option for 2015). To the extent the Cubs would also like to see Veras accumulate trade value by midseason – just in case they want to deal him, winky face – letting him close out games is the best way to do it. Consider that, among the other theoretically closer options – Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Hector Rondon, Blake Parker – are guys that the Cubs may want to keep for a few years yet. Might as well let Veras accumulate value, and then filter in an in-house replacement when the time is right.
- Speaking of Grimm in that group, the Cubs said yesterday that he’s now in camp as a reliever. That squares with some highly complimentary things I heard late last year about his upside in the bullpen, but runs contrary to reports earlier in the offseason that had him preparing to start. Sahadev Sharma recently wrote about Grimm’s time in Texas and about how his newfound pitch mix could work as a starter, and I’d started to get a little optimistic about his future as a starter. That said, Grimm himself just wants to make the team, and being in the bullpen now doesn’t preclude a long-term future in the rotation – some teams have made a living transitioning young arms like that. I am intrigued, though, to hear that the Cubs learned of Jake Arrieta’s issue and still wanted Grimm to be a bullpen guy. Does that mean they are really excited about him in the pen?
- Speaking of that, when Rick Renteria was asked about the composition of the team, he first mentioned how excited he is about the bullpen. And then in discussing the bullpen, one of the first two or three names he listed was none other than Justin Grimm.
- Kyuji Fujikawa is throwing from 120 feet, and hasn’t yet had any setbacks in his Tommy John recovery (surgery last June). Jed Hoyer said that he could be throwing off of the mound pretty soon, which would put him on schedule for a midseason return. Sometimes relievers can come back from Tommy John a touch more quickly than starters, so seeing Fujikawa back within 12 months from the surgery would not be a huge surprise (though it would be nice). If he looks good, the Cubs have a $5.5 million option on him for 2015, for what it’s worth.
- Speaking of Tommy John recoveries, it’s been a long, long road back for Arodys Vizcaino, who had Tommy John surgery in early 2012, and then a cleanup procedure last year. He hasn’t pitched competitively since 2011, but he’s on schedule this year to make his return. Jed Hoyer confirmed what Jason McLeod said earlier in the week, namely that Vizcaino is in the bullpen and could conceivably contribute there at the big league level this year. Hoyer described Vizcaino’s stuff as being as good as anyone’s in camp when he’s healthy, and added that, right now, Vizcaino is healthy. Is it stupid of me to start thinking about the possibility of the Cubs soon having an embarrassment of riches at the back-end of the bullpen?
- With Arrieta probably out to start the year, Hoyer said that Carlos Villanueva, Chris Rusin, and James McDonald will compete for a spot in the rotation (presumably behind Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, and Jason Hammel). Assuming health, you’ve gotta figure that McDonald is the favorite for the job, given Villanueva’s effectiveness in a swing role (but, then again, is it worth trying to show him off as a successful starter once again for trade purposes?), and given Rusin’s ability to be optioned to Iowa. Technically, there are also guys like Neil Ramirez, Alberto Cabrera and Tsuyoshi Wada, among others, that could win a rotation job, but that isn’t the present expectation.