The Cubs bullpen, man. It’s seen brighter days.
When Opening Day hits us in a couple weeks, the Cubs bullpen is going to be without its closer, Brandon Morrow, and possibly without its backup closer, Pedro Strop, and its primary lefty, Xavier Cedeno. Oh, and Brad Brach had his contract restructured after a bout with Mono and his velocity has been down so far this Spring.
But the universe cares not, because another one of the Cubs potential bullpen candidates (and offseason signings), Tony Barnette, is dealing with right shoulder soreness, himself:
Another blow to ‘pen deptch… Maddon: Tony Barnette dealing with right shoulder soreness. Hasn’t pitched in a game since March 3. Shut down for now.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 15, 2019
If you’re keeping score at home, that means all of the Cubs big free agent signings this offseason (Brach, Daniel Descalso, Xavier Cedeno, and, now Barnette) are dealing with injuries at the moment.
And if you zoom out back to last offseason’s main free agent signings (Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, and Tyler Chatwood), you’ll see that … oh never-mind.
Now, let’s be clear: Barnette was not a *major* threat to make the Opening Day roster when he first signed with the Cubs, but that’s really only because the injury concerns were ever-present and he had Minor League options remaining. In other words, it wasn’t really an indictment of his talent, which is right up there when he’s healthy.
Here’s part of what Brett had to say at the time of the deal, to get a fuller picture:
Barnette’s 2018 season was interrupted by a right-shoulder strain and eventually ended by a strained lat muscle, but when he was out there (26.1 innings), he was basically better than he’d ever been: 2.39 ERA, 2.97 FIP. He maintained career bests in strikeout rate (25.0%), walk rate (4.8%), and ground ball rate (51.4%). And as you can see, those aren’t just good for him numbers. Those are good, period.
Barnette had two pretty significant injuries last season and he isn’t getting any younger. Another full year of excellent production is just not something I’d be willing to bet heavily on, which is probably why Barnette was still out there in free agency for a while, despite his performance in 2016 and 2018. Thus, the Cubs aren’t betting too much on it – his $750K salary in 2019 is barely above the league minimum. Sure, it comes with a $250K bonus if he makes the Cubs active roster and some other kickers for days at the big league level, but it’s just a really affordable deal with hardly any risk (and it even comes with a 2020 club option).
Maybe the Cubs weren’t originally expecting Barnette to contribute out of the bullpen right away (he has Minor League options left, which gave the Cubs some flexibility), but I’ll bet they were reconsidering sending him to the Minors when the bullpen started taking hit after hit.
Now, well, it’s not really up to them. You might have previously considered Barnette intriguing depth above all else, but right now, that’s exactly what the Cubs needed.
That means Cubs OD bullpen might look like:
and then…Maples? Mills? Rosario? Mekkes? Wick? Norwood? Kontos? Tazawa? Webster? Ryan?
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) March 15, 2019
“Not great, Bob.” Meanwhile, I’m just sitting over here wondering when the Cubs are going to do what needs to be done:
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) March 14, 2019