The two lowest ERAs in 2017 in the Cubs’ bullpen belonged to Wade Davis (2.30) and Mike Montgomery (2.49, when pitching in relief).
Who was next? Carl Edwards Jr.? Pedro Strop? Jon Jay?
OK, Jon Jay actually had a 0.00 ERA in his inning of work, but the actual answer is Brian Duensing.
The 34-year-old lefty whom the Cubs scouted and plucked out of relative obscurity last year for $2 million, Duensing had a tremendously successful 2017 season. Not only did he post a 2.74 ERA (37% better than league average), but he also posted a 7.0% BB rate (trailing only Koji Uehara’s 6.7% on the team), an above-average 23.7% K rate, and nearly identical splits against lefties (.296 wOBA) and righties (.290).
Duensing was one of the Cubs’ best and most consistent relievers in 2017, and he also proved to be one of the better guys, raising funds to benefit childhood cancer research and treatment throughout the year.
Given the Cubs’ needs in the bullpen, it wouldn’t at all be a surprise to see them explore the possibility of a reunion with Duensing, who’s going to look to parlay his 2017 success into a multi-year deal. It’s possible the Cubs will prefer to take some more less-expensive shots at finding the next Duensing, but if they believe he’s found comfort in this role, it might be worth bringing him back.
In recent years past, guys like Duensing have generally been able to secure two-ish, $10-ish million contracts. It’s a crowded market for relievers this year, though, so I’m not quite sure he’ll find that deal waiting for him, especially with only one year of re-establishing himself at age 34 (he last saw big league success with the Twins back in 2014).
Presently, the Cubs’ bullpen features Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery (unless he’s starting), Justin Wilson, Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm (unless they’re non-tendered), and then a mix and match of upper-level minors guys, in whom you’d have varying degrees of hope and confidence. That is to say, the Cubs really need to make some reliable additions to the bullpen. Maybe one of those “additions” is simply hanging on to Duensing.