There really were only two big questions in the second half of Spring Training for the Cubs: who would be the backup catcher, and who would fill out the back of the bullpen? Victor Caratini answered the first question, and now Sahadev Sharma offers the answer to the second:
The Athletic has learned that Pedro Strop will start the season with the team, no need for a DL stint. Eddie Butler gets the nod over Bass, Hancock and others for the final spot in the Cubs bullpen.
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) March 28, 2018
Strop, who was slowed by a calf injury and sickness this spring, was always going to be in the bullpen if he was healthy with a sufficiently built-up arm. So, the fact he’s good to go is a great sign. You want him in that pen, you need him in that pen.
Strop’s health, then, left just one spot available in the bullpen, and the Cubs opted to go with the one guy they would lose if they didn’t keep him on the 25-man roster. Had the Cubs opted not to include Butler on the 25-man roster to open the season, they would have had to subject him to waivers, where he probably would have been claimed by a rebuilding club that wants to be the next to take a chance on Butler’s talent.
Butler, a starter by trade (he made 11 starts for the Cubs last year, in fact), will get a chance to translate his high-velocity, deep-repertoire arm to the bullpen for the first time in his career. I hope the Cubs really give him a chance to be that guy, because the raw stuff is there. And maybe the command tightens up a bit in short doses, and he finally starts missing bats. I’m not saying it’s likely at this point, but it’s possible. So, if you’re keeping him in the bullpen, and it’s April, go ahead and give him a chance to re-emerge as a reliever.
Sharma adds that Butler’s ability to go multiple innings could help early in the year when the Cubs figure to be extra protective of their starting pitchers.
You also then have Butler available if you need a fill-in starter and don’t want to shuffle Mike Montgomery around. Or, heck, you could occasionally go with sixth man Middie Butgomery from time to time! It worked well last year in a few chances.
As for the guys who didn’t make the pen, unless they’ve got opt out rights, they’ll head to AAA Iowa and look for an opportunity to hop the inevitable bullpen shuttle at some point this year.