The Chicago Cubs have been targeting a range of relievers (by any means of acquisition) all winter, and now you can add two names to the free agent portion of the list: Brad Ziegler and Jerry Blevins.
That, per a report at the Chicago Sun Times, where Gordon Wittenmyer relays Jed Hoyer’s message that while the Cubs are kicking tires on just about all available pitchers (starting, or otherwise), but they probably won’t be one of the teams making the biggest headlines.
That could mean that they’re out on guys like Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman, after having spent enough for two offseasons last winter, but it doesn’t mean they’re not going to make some notable moves. Wittenmyer has heard from a source that the Cubs are “in” on as many as ten different available relievers, two of whom were not previously explicitly identified in any public reports – those two being Blevins and Ziegler.
Before we dive into either Blevins or Ziegler, it’s worth reestablishing the names we think/know the Cubs to be in on, among free agents. Now that Melancon’s off the board and the Cubs have reportedly not shown any interest in resigning Aroldis Chapman, it’s fair to assume that the only top-end free agent the Cubs *might* still be in on is Kenley Jansen. There is also Daniel Hudson, though his list of suitors has reportedly been large. Greg Holland was one of the only other free agent relievers explicitly tied to the Cubs, and that came again as recently as this morning.
Outside of free agency, the Cubs, as you know, have been tied to another bunch of relievers. A few trustworthy sources were reporting some serious interest in the Royals’ Wade Davis as recently as yesterday, and others like Alex Colome and A.J. Ramos have been connected to the Cubs over the past week.
Since Blevins and Ziegler are new (though Luis did mention Ziegler as a target that might make sense for the Cubs), we’ll do a short dive on each right now.
2016 Stats (42.0 IP): 2.79 ERA (3.05 FIP); 29.2% K-rate, 8.4% BB-rate
Contract Status: Free Agent
Blevins actually got his career started with the Chicago Cubs organization back in 2006, but was traded to the Oakland A’s not one year later. He eventually made his debut with the Athletics in 2007, but had his first full year in relief in 2008. Blevins is a lefty, but has actually faced more right-handed batters in his career. Despite his usage as a full-inning reliever, he certainly has significant splits – .260 wOBA v. lefties .312 wOBA v. righties. Blevins could be a phenomenal LOOGY, but that would probably be wasting the total package.
Blevins did not make MLB Trade Rumors list of the Top 50 available free agents for 2017, he might not necessarily cost a boatload. A couple years in the $5-6ish million per year range? Just spitballin’.
2016 Stats (68.0 IP): 2.25 ERA (3.10 FIP); 20.1% K-rate, 9.0% BB-rate
Contract Status: Free Agent
Ziegler also got his start in 2006, and also played his first full Major League season with the Oakland Athletics in 2008. Weird. That said, having just turned 37, Ziegler is about 3.5 years older than Blevins, but arguably better, and with a longer track record of success.
For example, Ziegler may not strike out as many batters out as Blevins, but he was top five in ground ball rate last season (63.3%), and is third overall among qualified relievers since 2008. That’s really something. And lastly, despite his age, Ziegler has thrown at least 68.0 innings in five straight seasons and hasn’t ever thrown less than 58.0 innings in his career.
MLB Trade Rumors ranked Ziegler as the 27th best available free agent overall, behind just seven other relievers (Brett Cecil, Neftali Feliz, Travis Wood, Greg Holland, Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen, and Aroldis Chapman). They also predicted that the Red Sox would sign him to a two-year/$16 million deal (which is looking less likely after their trade for Tyler Thornburg).
As you can tell, then, the Cubs are actually quite a lucky team.
In an offseason mostly bereft of free agent talent, the Cubs’ biggest need by far (relief help) is actually available in spades. There are free agents and trades to be made, and this front office will find them. You might not be able to precisely predict who is coming, but the moves will happen and you have two more names to throw on the follow pile.