Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

hector rondon giants strikeoutOver the past few seasons, the Chicago Cubs have pieced together one of the most successful bullpens in baseball. However, nearly all of the success has come from mostly unexpected avenues. They’ve made a series of minor league signings, completed trades (both big and small), picked up players off of the waiver wire and kept in contact with multiple MLB castoffs, to build and sustain their pen throughout each and every season.

Of course, the Cubs front office has signed their fair share of free agent relievers over the years, but, to be honest, that’s probably where they’ve shown the least amount of success in their short tenure atop the Cubs. Instead, it’s been the so-called bargain bin pitchers that have allowed the Cubs bullpen to be among the best baseball.

No, seriously: in 2015, the Chicago Cubs bullpen posted a 5.0 WAR, which was tied for fourth most among all Major League bullpens.

Over at Fangraphs, Eno Sarris took note of the Cubs bargain bin success and began his own search for the Next Best Bargain Relievers, using the Cubs’ pen as the model…

That top-five bullpen last year had a Rule 5 Closer in Rondon, a former waiver claim in Pedro Strop (though that was the Orioles’ claim to complete a PTBNL situation), a Matt Garza trade throw-in in Justin Grimm, a minor league free agent in Clayton Richard (Pirates), and an in-season minor league free agent in Trevor Cahill. It truly takes all types.

Among the familiar free agent names, by the way, Sarris mentions former Cub Tommy Hunter, who, at just 29 years old is the youngest top 20 reliever available this offseason. Drawing most of his praise for his health, Hunter’s 96 MPH fastball and “zippy curve” are said to be a good foundation for late in the game. It didn’t seem to show up for the Cubs after they acquired Hunter at the deadline this year, but perhaps some other team will find better fortune.

Sarris also gets into Rex Brothers as among the most interesting of the group of bargain relievers that (was) available to be grabbed. Acknowledging that Brothers doesn’t have the fastball he used, Sarris reminds us that, for the last three years, Brothers swinging strike rate was actually 18 spots better than the Cubs own Hector Rondon. If you recall, the Cubs picked up Rex Brothers from the Rockies a couple weeks ago. Nicely done.

Given that the Cubs appear dead set on establishing their major league bullpen by piecing together unexpected players from across the league – they’ve acquired six guys like that, already – it behooves you to familiarize yourself with Sarris’ piece. After all, he was exactly right with respect to Brothers.

But all of that said, don’t allow yourself to go down too far down the rabbit hole. You can certainly find outstanding players (and value) through these channels – see Hector Rondon – but those deals are usually few and far between. In a lot of ways, we – as Cub fans – have allowed the pendulum to swing so far in this direction that we’ve become wary of any big-time reliever acquisitions. If the Cubs do look to add a top end reliever via trade or free agency, remember the actual message of Sarris’ article: it truly takes all types.

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