The BIG NEWS for the day (I’m not even entirely kidding, since we haven’t otherwise seen a Cubs transaction in over a month) is the re-signing of lefty reliever Brian Duensing. All appropriate details on the signing and love for Duensing right here.
This post is not about examining Duensing, the pitcher (more on his excellent performance with the Cubs in 2017 here and here). Instead, this particular post is about examining Duensing, the concept.
As in, why I’m digging the Cubs bringing back a reliever like Duensing on a deal like this at a particular time like this.
Consider that, before this signing, the Cubs had a theoretically acceptable pitching staff. They already had more than eight guys competing for bullpen jobs, and had a rotation that would go five solid starters with Mike Montgomery at the back. Adding Duensing, at a minimum, improves the depth, and gives the Cubs another lefty option for the bullpen.
But, strategically, he does a whole lot more than that.
With Duensing in the fold, the Cubs not only now have a much-more-solidified bullpen, but they’ve got an additional full-inning guy, who also happens to be a lefty. In a world where Montgomery is in the rotation, having another full-inning lefty in the bullpen could be critically important. And now the Cubs have that, meaning that the Duensing bullpen signing is actually something of a nice hedge against the risk that the Cubs don’t sign another starting pitcher before this offseason is up.
To the extent the Yu Darvish-Jake Arrieta-Alex Cobb trio was willing to call the Cubs’ wait-it-out bluff, the team’s resolve just got a tiny bit more steely. Would you still like to see one of those guys sign up with the Cubs? Of course. But if it doesn’t happen for one reason or another, the Cubs have a little more overall coverage now in the pitching corps.
Moreover, adding a quality arm like Duensing on a two-year, $7 million deal improves the bullpen without crippling the Cubs’ ability to pursue any of those three arms right now and stay under the luxury tax cap.
For luxury tax purposes (which, remember, goes by contract AAV (and includes everyone on the big league roster, plus bonuses, plus buyouts paid, plus about $14 to $20 million in benefits and insurance)), the Cubs’ payroll is right around the $165 million mark for 2018 after signing Duensning. The luxury tax cap for this season is $197 million, and you want to make sure you leave ample room under that for in-season moves and bonuses that might accrue. So, then, I’d say the Cubs probably have anywhere from $15 million to $25 million in AAV left to play with, depending on how conservative they want to be going into the season.
Had the Cubs added a pricier reliever – even a guy like Addison Reed, whom we admittedly wanted, and who received a steal-of-a-deal – you’re looking at closer to $8 million AAV instead of the $3.5 million Duensing is getting. That means the $15 to $25 million cushion just got chopped down to $10 to $20 million, and a realistic pursuit of Darvish or Arrieta might go out the window.
The Cubs have been sitting back in their chair, waiting to see which of Darvish, Arrieta, or Cobb would come to them at their price. With Duensing in the fold, and thus the bullpen better protected against Montgomery having to slide into the rotation, the Cubs can lean back just a little bit more, the wry smile creeping farther up the side of their face.
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