In late 2013, the Chicago Cubs took a flyer on reliever Daniel Bard, who, at the time, was a year and a half from being on a run of two straight years as one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. Unfortunately, in that year and a half, he’d had a failed attempt at converting to the rotation, lost confidence in his ability to make pitches, and couldn’t find the strike zone. The story remained the same in his time with the Cubs (he never pitched in the big leagues), and through his next year in the Rangers’ organization.
The Cubs are taking another chance on Bard, but the story has changed in a few ways. For one thing, the chance is now just on a minor league deal with an invitation to big league Spring Training, so there’s nothing to lose. For another thing, Bard had surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome at this time last year, which is not an insignificant procedure. It’s possible that was contributing to his wildness, and it’s also possible that he needed more than a couple months to full recover from the procedure. And, at just 29, there’s still time for Bard to get back on track and contribute for years in the big leagues. It’s happened before.
It’s all possible.
So, against that backdrop, I like the move. Why not, right? This front office obviously has a long-term relationship with Bard, and there’s no risk in giving him a shot to prove that all of those possibles do really add up to something different this year.
That said, even if Bard has straightened out the control issues, the bullpen competition is going to be fierce.
The Cubs have also signed lefty Francisley Bueno to a minor league deal, and he’ll also come to big league camp trying to win a job on the big league team. The story with Bueno, 33, is a little different from Bard. Rather than a no-risk reclamation project, Bueno is a no-risk potential LOOGY for the bullpen. Every year, the Cubs bring in at least one of these types, and it’s always a good idea. The threshold for succeeding as a LOOGY in MLB is lower than for a full-inning reliever, and you just never know who’s going to have an “on” year in that group.
Bueno pitched for the Royals in each of the past three years after spending some time in the Mexican League. His overall numbers were intermittently decent, but the real thrust of what he can potentially bring is his career success against lefties: 2.95 FIP, 14.5% K rate, 3.2% BB rate, .212/.252/.278. It’s been only 32 innings of work over his career against lefties, but, so far, they just flat out can’t hit him.
So, you bring Bueno in for virtually no cost, and he provides competition and depth for a bullpen race that has a number of lefties in the mix, but none that stands out as obviously going to make the bullpen.