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justin grimmThe 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.
  • Edwin

    I think the Cubs have some decent bullpen options, but nothing at this point strikes me as being anything special.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      It’s all projection and upside, to be sure. But Strop, Grimm, Vizcaino, Ramirez, Rondon, Rivero, Rosscup among others – they’ve got it.

      • Edwin

        True. On second thought, that was way too pessamistic for a Friday.

        I hope Grimm makes it as a special reliever, because then we can use nicknames like The Grimm Reaper.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          OMG! They could play ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ when he heads to the mound!

          • Edwin

            He could even walk in wearing a dark cloak and carrying a scythe. Now THAT would be a way to make this Cubs season more exciting.

          • JCubs79

            But I think I would want the opposing team to Fear the Reaper Brett.

          • jschwei17

            Would he be coordinated enough to run in and bang a cowbell?
            “You’re gonna want that cowbell!”

      • Jason P

        I read in Vineline earlier this offseason that the Cubs were going to try Armando Rivero as a starter.

        • Kyle

          That seems … unlikely. He’s 26 and was a short-outing reliever last year.

          • Jason P

            I guess the Cubs are lacking power starting pitching prospects. I remember a quote either from McLeod or one of the other higher-ups in player development that they were just limiting him to short outings last year to control his innings in his first professional season.

            • Kyle

              Dude is 26. It takes a few years to go from 30.1 innings to 180. I can’t see it.

              I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I am saying that if I had to place a bet, I’d bet on misheard or misreported before I would bet on him actually being seriously viewed as a starter.

  • Lou Brown

    Is the Cabrera as a starter thing from last year officially dead? They spent all of last year stretching him out, and he is out of options, so it seems now or never. And most of what I read has him as an afterthought for that 5th starter spot.

  • mdavis

    I’d like to see someone like Cabrera get a fair shake at that 5 spot while Arrietta is on the mend. And I am bummed that Grimm apparently has been scrapped from that possibility.

    • Darth Ivy

      There’s more to gain by having short term assets like mcdonald and hammel in the rotation.

      • mdavis

        yes to hammel, i disagree with mcdonald though.

        • Darth Ivy

          mcdonald was really good during the first half of last year. If he can do that again, that’s a nice flip. More long term assets. Cabrera and Grimm will still be there. They’re not risking much by doing that, but the reward is pretty nice

          • Darth Ivy

            low risk, medium return

  • JakeMac

    What’s the likely outcome for Rosscup long-term? With the BB/9 issues he had in the minors, does he project like a Brian (Dirty) Fuentes, a lefty with stuff, but obvious control issues? LOOGY? Anywhere in between?

    • willis

      Just me, but his stuff elevates him higher than a LOOGY type. He’s got much more in his tank from what I’ve seen in the minors than most LOOGYs. I think his ceiling is probably a 7/8 inning guy who you don’t have to pull when a RH comes up.

  • Featherstone

    Hey Brett, is there any merit it to the theory that Veras is the closer also because they would rather not have Strop rack up any saves? I believe he’s pre-arb eligible and saves really inflate the arb prices down the road. Maybe they use Strop as a dominating setup man similar to how the Yankees used David Robertson?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      It could be a small factor, yes. Though I’d expect Strop, if he’s healthy and looks like the Cubs version of Strop (not the 2013 Orioles version), to take over as closer if Veras is dealt mid-season.

  • http://BN Sacko

    Keeping Grimm in the pen could be perceived as Arreitas injury not very serious at all. I still like Grimm better then the other 3 options at SP.

    • willis

      Yes, I was a little bummed to hear that they were already penciling in Grimm as a relilever. I was hoping he’d go to Iowa and get 6 or so innings every 5th day. But, there must be something they really like (which I can understand) about his arm coming out of the pen. Even though, there are enough of those types that I think allowing him to start when the season begins is the right play.

  • V23

    A healthy Vizcaino would be huge. He’s a top 100 prospect with TOR stuff.

    However, with his health, I think he is the long-term closer at a cheap price to make this a very good bullpen.

    I look at the Cubs Bullpen as one of the best in the division if Vizcaino is healthy.

    Big improvement from last year where the bullpen was horrifying.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    The Arietta news is a bummer, but we have a lot more options for the back end of the rotation than we had last year. There was some Renteria bashing going on here earlier. I too was uncertain during the search process, but I am convinced that he is the right guy for the job now. Realistically if Renteria could have this club play .500 ball he could be manager of the year. Just like Murphy did last year, you never know who is going to surprise in any given year. One concern I have is the depth at catching. If Castillo were to go down with an injury we would really be screwed. I can’t wait until the 27th and 28th to see those two ST games on WGN. I hope Baez is in the lineup so I can take a look at him. The guy that I am excited about is Viscaino. I hope that Veres is lights out so we can flip him and Viscaino does so well he can step in as the closer. Probably won’t happen, but I can dream.

  • CubsFaninMS

    We have a slew of back-end rotation depth so replacing Arrieta on a temporary basis should be simple. Our front of the rotation depth.. well… just gather a mental picture of a vast stretch of desert with an eagle screaching in the background. All joking aside, I’m a tad disappointed. Arrieta was on my short list of breakout candidates for 2014. Still a possibility.

    • Edwin

      Do eagles live in deserts? I thought they liked being closer to water.

      • Edwin

        Learn something every day: I was probably thinking of bald-eagles. Apparently American Golden Eagles can live in the desert, as well as several types of Hawks.

        • CubsFaninMS
          • CubsFaninMS

            (pretending like I knew that already)

            • willis

              Arrieta was, along with Olt, the guy I was looking forward to seeing most this spring. I hate that his shoulder is screaming a little but hopefully it’s minor. He’s got some electric stuff and in a year like this, let him sink or swim.

  • Javier Bryant

    Cabrera is out of options, correct?

    • CubFan Paul

      Correct.

  • CubFan Paul

    “Does that mean they are really excited about him in the pen?”

    No. I bet it’s all about his service time. Starting the year in Iowa & later stretching out or coming up as a reliever later would easily delay arbitration by a year.

    • Jason P

      Teams generally aren’t concerned with the service time clocks for non-closing relievers. It’s unlikely he’ll ever get expensive enough to make it matter.

      • CubFan Paul

        “Teams generally aren’t concerned with the service time clocks for non-closing relievers”

        The Cubs were last year

        • Jason P

          For who? Rosscup and Grimm were called up after rosters expanded and the AAA season had concluded. It was unrelated to service time.

          • CubFan Paul

            I was referring to Arrieta.

            • Jason P

              He’s slightly different. I think they view him as at least having some chance of being a starter long term.

              Starters get a lot more expensive in arbitration than relievers.

              • CubFan Paul

                “Starters get a lot more expensive in arbitration than relievers”

                I know. But I think Theo&Co still view Grimm as starter long term also, but with him tinkering w/his repertoire, AAA makes sense early this year (& helps financially too, as I saying earlier).

  • The Instructor

    I’m just glad Marmol isn’t coming in to blow saves this year. It was hard to watch them continue to run him out there and throw balls. Makes me wonder how the season would have progressed if he didn’t have such a meltdown right out of the gate.

    Sounds like the pen is going to be deep. That’s good for Russell, hopefully they won’t have to rely on him so much.

    I’m disappointed in our off season with the lack of significant moves, but I’m a silly Cubs fan and I will hold on to hope for as long as I can. Why not. GO CUBS!

  • When The Musics Over

    It’s starting to read like every Cubs failed or middling starter is very likely to be a very effective bullpen piece. While I like the optimism, I can’t imagine this is a likely reality. If that was the case, I’d carry 13 failed starters as an all 1-2 IP pitching staff and mow down every team in the process.

    • CubFan Paul

      “every Cubs failed or middling starter is very likely to be a very effective bullpen piece”

      Someone isn’t sure on bullpen construction.

      • When The Musics Over

        Please explain. I think I understand baseball, but I live to be enlightened, especially following cryptic smart-ass condescending responses.

        • CubFan Paul

          Almost ALL bullpens consist of failed & middling starters.

          non-cryptic enough for you?

          • MattM

            CubFan Paul that is ridiculous! Is that cryptic enough for you?

          • When The Musics Over

            Yep, and every last one of them is awesome. That was the linchpin of my comment. But trolling around with smart-ass comments aimed at answering only pieces of information is much easier and more amusing, so that’s the route you take.

          • CubbieBubba

            are ALL also effective, or did you not finish reading the sentence you quoted?

            • CubFan Paul

              Failed & middling starters make effective relief pitchers Johnny come lately.

              • MattM

                DO all failed and middling starters? Think about what you said! DUH! Cryptic?

              • When The Musics Over

                Sure many are effective/average, but few are very good and many also never amount to anything.

                • CubFan Paul

                  The fat laday has sung if your changing the topic/moving the goalpost from

                  ‘Almost ALL bullpens consist of failed & middling starters.’

                  • When The Musics Over

                    It’s funny how you still won’t accept the original point.

                    • CubFan Paul

                      The only point that matters is

                      ‘Almost ALL bullpens consist of failed & middling starters’

                      That was the topic (that you’ll no longer address because you know see your original thinking was flawed).

    • Patrick W.

      For one thing, every team plays about 1500 innings a year, so 13 pitchers would each have to pitch about 115 innings every year. Finding 13 guys who can pitch effectively enough over 115 innings to “mow down every team” isn’t going to happen.

      One of the things that separates starting pitchers from relief pitches is how many different types of pitches they can effectively throw for strikes. The reason “failed starters” are failed is often because they only have one or two pitches they can throw for strikes. When you throw less pitch types, the more you pitch the more exposed those two pitches become, the easier it is for hitters to guess what’s coming next, which may or may not help. The best relievers throw one pitch so well it is always effective in one inning. If Mariano Rivera tried to pitch that incredible cutter 200 innings a season, he would might have been less effective, because by the time a hitter saw that pitch the 5th, 6th, 11th time in a single game his recognition skills become less important, all the work is done for him.

      • Patrick W.

        …. patiently waiting for Doc to add enough context to show I’m probably wrong ….

        • DarthHater

          The rest of us are willing to cut out the middle man and just immediately jump to the conclusion that you are probably wrong. ;-)

          • TWC

            Something about a glass of water with a hole in it comes to mind…

            • DarthHater

              heh

            • Patrick W.

              Damn that was an amazing analogy. Amazing. Seriously.

              • DarthHater

                Wait a minute – the analogy between a glass of water and an airport? or the analogy between your glass-of-water comment and your relief-pitcher comment? :-P

                • TWC

                  Isn’t it enough to know that it was just amazing?

                  • DarthHater

                    Well, Patrick made one analogy and you made the other. But, then, you’re both amazing, so wtf.

                • Patrick W.

                  My traffic through O’Hare and traffic to and from a baseball game can be explained using two glasses of water was an amazing analogy. I stand by it. I’ve entered it into the “best analogies of 2014″ category at the Webbies. I know it’s early but I like my chances.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          Actually, I think that I can add context to why you are right! Here are the numbers of batters that Mariano Rivera faced last year for each team:

          BAL 33
          BOS 32
          TOR 32
          TB 24
          DET 17
          CHW 15
          SEA 13
          MIN 12
          TEX 11
          SF 9
          COL 8
          OAK 8
          CLE 7
          KC 7
          ARI 6
          LAA 6
          LAD 6
          HOU 4
          NYM 3
          SD 3

          Basically, Rivera had a good start’s worth of batters faced against three AL East teams. That would be like getting 4 or 5 looks at a guy: but instead of being 30-45 minutes between PAs (or 2-3 days in the case of Sox-Yankees games), it would often be weeks or months between PAs! That’s not much of a chance to get used to that cutter.

      • CubbieBubba

        Very true, though for some there would likely be an uptick in velocity which might help. Regardless, oh how I wish the Cubs had a Mariano Rivera (or two) that we could actually test this on.

      • When The Musics Over

        Again, if it’s that easy to find very effective bullpen guys, who cares if you burn them out with high innings pitched. There will always be plenty around as replacements.

        But really the original point was that the flip from failed starter to very good bullpen piece has run away a bit.

        Both the second part of my original post and the first part of this post are of the tongue and cheek variety.

    • Edwin

      It’s actually an interesting theory. You’d probably have 1-3 full time starters, and then you’d use a combination of “long relievers” to pitch through the other games. The idea would be to have your long pitchers be able to go through the lineup once, and then turn the ball over to the next reliever. It probably wouldn’t give you the best pitching, but it might be able to save enough money that the team could invest in other areas to make the team work.

      In reality, though, players are pretty set in their ways and what they expect their role to be, so it’d be a hard plan to put together in reality.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/a-more-radical-pitching-staff-proposal/

      • Patrick W.

        Your theory is an interesting one, the fangraphs theory is VERY interesting one, the original theory posted up there is not, but I don’t think he was being serious, I think he was actually making the point that it would be ridiculous.

    • Edwin

      Most relievers started out as starting pitchers, and then transition to the bullpen. Some do it in the minors, some do it after a breif time in the majors. Mariano Rivera started 10 games for the Yankees in 1995.

      I don’t think it’s “very likely”, as much as it’s easier to be hopeful that a failed starter can be a decent reliever.

      • When The Musics Over

        Yep. Assuming failed starters have a decent chance to become decent relievers is far more realistic. That every failed starter can be spotted in as a high leverage reliever is where I start getting confused.

        • Edwin

          If someone thinks that every failed starter can be spotted in as a high leverage reliever, it’s more their own irrational thinking/optimism than anything else. Fans want to beleive that every failed starter is a Sean Marshall waiting to happen.

          • CubFan Paul

            No one was thinking that. He’s just moving the goalpost/changing the topic.

            • When The Musics Over

              Not really, and you’re moving the goalposts retort really makes no sense. To move the goalposts, one would have to state an opinion of some sort and then change it. My original opinion that assuming every failed starter has a very good chance to become a very good reliever hasn’t changed at all. I guess though that if your goal was to get me going, then sure, you won.

              • CubFan Paul

                “My original opinion that assuming every failed starter has a very good chance to become a very good reliever”

                That’s not what you said…

                you said: “every Cubs failed or middling starter is very likely to be a very effective bullpen piece…I can’t imagine this is a likely reality. If that was the case, I’d carry 13 failed starters”

                The music is over. She sung. Goal post mover.

                • Edwin

                  “assuming every failed starter has a very good chance to become a very good reliever”

                  “every Cubs failed or middling starter is very likely to be a very effective bullpen piece”

                  They look the same to me.

                  • Patrick W.

                    I agree. As much as I hate to take sides, I’m sorry Paul, you’ve lost this round.

                    ::lowers gavel, everybody rises, leaves room::

                    • Edwin

                      The great and powerful Oz has spoken!

                    • DarthHater

                      I hereby move that all BN debates henceforth should be resolved by Patrick.

                    • Edwin

                      Second, on the condition that Patrick is only allowed to rule in my favor.

                    • miggy80

                      I’m in favor of the motion on the floor

                    • DarthHater

                      The chair rules that Edwin’s proposed amendment to the motion is an unfriendly amendment and out of order. ;-)

                    • Patrick W.

                      Not only out of order, but also highly unlikely :)

                    • Edwin

                      Second withdrawn.

                  • CubFan Paul

                    “They look the same to me.”

                    But that’s not the topic (..”Almost ALL bullpens consist of failed & middling starters”)

                    He’s been backtracking ever since.

                    • Edwin

                      You sir, are a delight.

                    • CubFan Paul

                      “You sir, are a delight”

                      Only because it’s Valentine’s Day.

                      Don’t get used to it.

                    • CubbieBubba

                      In actuality, the original topic was the rest of the sentence that YOU keep ignoring. How expectations seem to be that every failed starter in the Cubs bullpen is going to be effective, and how unrealistic that is.

                    • CubFan Paul

                      “expectations seem to be that every failed starter in the Cubs bullpen is going to be effective”

                      Johnny come lately, that was not the original topic.

                      Bullpen composition was.

                      ‘Almost ALL bullpens consist of failed & middling starters’

                    • miggy80

                      “Johnny come lately” yup that’s me. I’m always late to these discussions.

                    • Patrick W.

                      Excuse me. I have ruled. Move on or be held in contempt of me.

            • Edwin

              IDK, I get what he’s saying. Almost all RP were at one time starters, but that doesn’t mean that most of the current “failed” starters on the Cubs will on turn into valuable bullpen pieces. It seems more like you’re purposely reading too much into his comments just to be argumentative. He’s not really moving the goalposts, you’re just reading too much into what he wrote.

              • CubFan Paul

                see above.

                • CubbieBubba

                  see a therapist.

                  • TWC

                    Heh

  • Carne Harris

    I like Rusin, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Villanueva has the inside track for the last rotation spot. We only have him signed through this year and he’s a perfect flip candidate.

    • Voice of Reason

      Rusin and villanueva both suck. If either get flipped it will be for a bag of balls.

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