After a relatively large number of free agent exits this winter (most recently Hector Rondon), the certain part of the Cubs’ bullpen is down to just Carl Edwards Jr., Pedro Strop, and Mike Montgomery, with Justin Wilson as an under-control-and-probably-will-be-in-there-too guy, and Justin Grimm just a step below that. (There are some young arms like Dillon Maples available, too, but none are clearly set in stone just yet.)
And while there’s obviously plenty of talent loaded into that group, there’s not a single sure-fire closer ready for next season. Fortunately, there are plenty of quality reliever options on the free agent market, even if it means the Cubs will have to bring in more talented arms that also aren’t “sure-fire closers” and just hope that someone takes the job and runs with it.
Or, the Cubs could target a “non-closer” they really like in free agency with the goal of making him the guy.
According to Ken Rosenthal (The Athletic), if the Cubs do not re-sign Wade Davis this offseason (seeming unlikely, but not impossible as of now), they might add a reliever without much closing experience to be the ninth-inning guy next year.
And apparently, their targets include 2017 breakouts Brandon Morrow and Mike Minor.
Morrow, you might recall, was one of the earliest Cubs rumors of the offseason. In fact, he was connected to the Cubs just after he dominated them out of the Dodgers bullpen in the 2017 NLCS. Morrow, 33, blew up in Los Angeles this past year, earning a 2.06 ERA (1.55 FIP) and 1.7 fWAR over 43.2 IP.
And the most interesting thing about Morrow is that, unlike most relievers, he doesn’t just do one thing really well while lacking in other departments. He is decidedly *good* at pretty much everything.
Take a look (league averages in parenthesis):
Strikeout rate: 29.4% (23.3%)
Walk rate: 5.3 % (9.2%)
Average: .194 (.242)
Ground ball rate: 45.0% (44.3%)
Fly ball rate: 31.2% (35.9%)
Soft-hit rate: 20.0% (19.5%)
Hard-hit rate: 30.9% (31.0%)
Sure, he’s better in some areas than others, but that’s a really well-balanced pitcher right there. If you’re looking for warts, however, you won’t have to look far. Morrow was injured in every single season from 2008 to 2015, threw just 16.0 innings in 2016, and only 43.2 innings this past season. So, at 33, it’s fair to wonder if the Cubs could rely on his health for an entire season, let alone the multiple years he’ll get on his next contract.
Of course, that’s also why he’s fairly affordable. According to various projections (Jon Heyman, MLB Trade Rumors, FanGraphs) Morrow is likely to earn something between 2 years/$22 million and 3 years/$24 million on his next contract. All things considered, he would be a high-risk (in that, he might not pitch all that much), high-reward option for not too much cost.
And then there’s Mike Minor.
If you recall, we’ve already done a full free-agent profile on Mike Minor here at Bleacher Nation, and I came away very impressed with the former-starter turned reliever:
There’s almost nothing not to like from his 2017 season. He had the traditional stats (ERA, K%, BB%) of a top-flight reliever as well as the peripheral numbers (FIP, soft contact, hard contact) to support it. You could argue that his ground ball rate was a little low, but it was actually the best mark of his career and a only a couple clicks below average.
On top of everything else, Minor is yet another example of a former starter turning into a reliever and immediately finding a ton of success – Andrew Miller and Wade Davis are two recent highly-notable examples. The Cubs front office has said on multiple occasions that they hope to find the next Andrew Miller, instead of trading for the current version (so to speak), and Minor, albeit with one quality season already in the books, could be that guy.
Minor is also just 29 years old, and threw almost twice as many innings in 2017 (77.2 IP) as Morrow. Naturally, that means he’ll likely cost a bit more (both in terms of years and dollars), but it might not be as far off as you think.
Heyman has him at the same 3 year/$24 million deal, MLB Trade Rumors projects a four year/$28 million, and FanGraphs has him at 3 years/$27 million. Frankly, even though it’s more money overall, the average annual value (for luxury tax reasons) keeps his deal quite reasonable. [Brett: YO, give me that 4/$28M deal RIGHT NOW.]
In any case, both pitchers have plenty to offer and you should be excited that the Cubs are pursuing either. Obviously, they’ll need to add much more than just one reliever to the mix for 2018, but Morrow or Minor would be a really great start.