Pedro Strop had a second straight rough outing last night, but, no, I don’t think it puts him in any realistic danger of being bounced from the Cubs’ bullpen, even as it figures to get extra crowded very soon.
That’s because Rafael Soriano, signed earlier this year by the Cubs to a minor league deal, is just about ready to come up to the big leagues after striking out the side in his first appearance at AAA Iowa on Thursday. With his velocity geared up to its usual 92-94mph, and the stuff apparently good enough to overwhelm at AA and AAA, there’s probably not much let for Soriano to do at this point. His minor league stint was simply about getting ready to pitch in the big leagues after a long layoff, and it appears that he’s ready.
So, with Soriano arriving any day now, the Cubs will have to replace someone in the eight-man bullpen, assuming they don’t temporarily go with a ponderous nine relievers, as they’ve done before in very short stretches (there is a doubleheader coming on Wednesday, so maybe …. ), or they don’t do something crazy like trading a reliever for a bench bat.
Simply swapping someone out is more likely.
Strop, Jason Motte, Hector Rondon, Justin Grimm, and Travis Wood are safe (unless the Cubs option a guy like Grimm because they don’t want to lose someone else who doesn’t have options left), unless an injury pops up. That leaves James Russell, whom the Cubs might want to keep out there as their situational lefty, Neil Ramirez and Edwin Jackson.
As much as it pains me to say, Ramirez hasn’t quite looked right since coming back from the DL with his early-season shoulder issue. The stuff doesn’t look crisp, the velocity is way down, and he’s not currently being used in anything resembling a high-leverage situation. Ramirez does not have any minor league options left, though, so the only way he’d be the guy moved out right now would be if a disabled list stint was in order. I can’t really speculate on whether that’s appropriate for him right now, but if he were subjected to waivers, instead, he’d be claimed without question.
So, if no DL stint is coming for Ramirez, that leaves Jackson as the most likely to get bounced. Jackson is used exclusively in mop-up duty at this point, and, while that does have a small amount of value, that’s not what is keeping Jackson on the roster. Instead, it’s Jackson’s contract – which pays him $11 million this year and another $11 million next year – and the small glimmer of hope that he figures something out, despite all recent evidence to the contrary. The Cubs will soon have to figure something out with Jackson regardless of Soriano’s readiness, so maybe Soriano coming up is going to be the final tipping point.
The Cubs could designate Jackson for assignment at some point in the next few days, giving them 10 days to work out a trade before having to release Jackson. It’s possible, if that 10-day window gets close enough to the trade deadline, that there might be a team or two willing to pick up a little bit of Jackson’s salary (if, for example, they miss out on another trade target). The problem with trying to move Jackson now – even for scraps – is that most teams would probably prefer to wait and see what’s going to happen around the league (for themselves and their competitors) in the final days before the deadline before committing to Jackson. And Jackson, even at a minimal cost, is not enticing enough to get a team to jump early. Although Jackson may not have a real future with the Cubs, being able to save a couple million this and/or next year on his contract is pretty meaningful. Accomplishing that could be a matter of timing. (Maybe Jackson would be a fit on a rebuilding team that could have him in August/September, and in 2016, for very little in salary, and could see about trying to spin him into a trade piece on the cheap. You never know.)
In any case, I am digressing. You can see the overall point, though: fitting Soriano into the bullpen – even an eight-man bullpen – in the coming days is a little tricky. But it’s coming.