Let's Talk About the Cubs Bullpen: Edwards, Smith, Cahill, Rondon, Strop, Papelbon, More

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Let’s Talk About the Cubs Bullpen: Edwards, Smith, Cahill, Rondon, Strop, Papelbon, More

Chicago Cubs

carl edwards jr cubsThere’s so much to touch on with respect to the Cubs’ bullpen – no, not solely because of yesterday’s game – that I’ve gotta just do this thing Bullets style …

  • A lotta folks were annoyed by Joe Maddon’s decision to leave Carl Edwards Jr. in as long as he did yesterday, after it was quite clear that Edwards couldn’t command his fastball and had already handed the Cardinals a run and the bases loaded. I think that’s a fair discussion. Since Hector Rondon was unavailable, Pedro Strop is out, Justin Grimm had just gone back-to-back games, and Aroldis Chapman is apparently not going to be used for cleanup in the 8th anymore*, the options were pretty limited for Maddon. He could have brought Joe Smith in earlier (we saw how that went), or he could have replaced Edwards with a lefty (Travis Wood or Mike Montgomery) to face righties. So, then, even if you ignore the possible long-term benefits of having Edwards work through that moment, Maddon’s decision is at least defensible.
  • For me, absent any other considerations, I probably still would have pulled him a batter or two earlier. However, once you factor in the Cubs’ lead in the division, the meaningfulness of games yet to come, and the development curve for a guy like Edwards who has battled these problems before and needs to learn on the job how to pitch when he’s not at his best … I say leave him in there. Of course you never want to just punt a game away for nothing. But when you consider how close the decision was anyway because of the bullpen’s status, I think you might as well give Edwards an opportunity to try and pitch through an ugly moment where he clearly did not have his command. How would he respond? What would he try? What worked? What didn’t? These are things that can be learned only in a real, and tight moment like that. If he gleans anything at all from this that he can use when the stakes are much, much higher, then it was totally worth it.
  • *(You have to work with a guy where he’s comfortable if you want maximum effectiveness. I totally get that. But here’s hoping Chapman becomes comfortable working more than an inning at a time if the situation absolutely calls for it.)
  • I’d call it no surprise, then, that the two things to which Maddon pointed after the game about leaving Edwards in: (1) he wouldn’t have left him in quite as long if the full bullpen were available, and (2) “to learn how to get out of that moment.” (CSN) When you truly consider who was available in the bullpen and the matchups in that moment, plus the opportunity for a high-intensity (but low stakes, when you consider the standings) difficult moment for Edwards – and all happening in the blink of an eye – I think Maddon made the right decision. Well … can I say “right” if it didn’t work out? Maybe “right” is the wrong word. He made an acceptable decision. I understand it. I might’ve made the exact same decision.
  • And then you have the move to bring Joe Smith in after finally letting Edwards come in. Once again, it was clearly about the matchups, so I understand the decision. But boy oh boy is it a problem if Smith can’t do the one thing that was his saving grace in a season where his numbers otherwise look terrible. That one thing? Get groundballs from righties. Even as he was overall quite bad with the Angels this year (partly because of usage), he was still getting an elite groundball rate versus righties at the time of the trade (60.7%). With the Cubs, his groundball rate has been 14.3%(!!!!!!!!therearen’tenoughexclamationpoints!!!!!!!). That’s beyond troubling.
  • Smith doesn’t know what’s up, because he seems to feel fine and has never given up a bunch of fly balls – and homers – before in his career (ESPN). It’s possible it’s just a fluke – after all, it’s only been 5 appearances – but Smith’s up against a bit of a clock, because the Cubs will be getting Trevor Cahill back on Tuesday for the double header as the 26th man, and then the next day they’ll have to make a roster move. Cahill can’t be optioned back to Iowa, so it’ll either be Justin Grimm (or Carl Edwards Jr.) riding the bus until rosters expand in a couple weeks, or Smith could be let go. A bit of a tough decision without a lot of data.
  • Of the bullpen implosion, Maddon said (CSN): “That’s an example of what the team looks like without Strop and Rondon.” For as much as we celebrated how the addition of Aroldis Chapman would make the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings so much better, without Strop and Rondon, that all goes away (heck, it’s worse than it was before).
  • Speaking of Rondon, he’ll hopefully be available tonight after feeling good yesterday, but getting an extra day just to be sure (Sahadev Sharma). Hey, how about seven strong innings from John Lackey tonight, followed by a clean eighth by Rondon and a clean ninth by Chapman? Everyone would feel really good again all of a sudden!
  • As for Strop, his surgery was a success on Friday, and he told Carrie Muskat he immediately felt better and, “I’ll be back soon.” Your absolute best case scenario is that he’s back by mid-September, but more likely somewhere in those final two weeks of September. And if he’s fully healthy with a nice, well-rested arm, that would be just fine.
  • Random bit of bullpen miscellany: keep an eye on righty Jose Rosario at AAA Iowa. His numbers there aren’t overwhelming (but are very good – 3.00 ERA, 2.58 FIP over 12.0 innings), but he throws extremely hard, he was a great-stuff-bad-numbers starter until he missed the 2015 season with Tommy John Surgery, and he came back as a reliever this year, flying all the way from High-A to AA to AAA. He’s a minor league free agent after this season if the Cubs don’t add him to the 40-man roster, which makes you wonder if he could be one of those out-of-nowhere pop-up surprise guys in September. In any case, he’s a guy to watch for 2017 and beyond.
  • We’ll give this more dedicated attention this week, but here’s the short version: Jonathan Papelbon was very good again with the Nationals this year until things really fell off at the end of July and in August, and he wound up negotiating a release from the team, which was effected yesterday. Given that the Cubs reportedly considered dealing for him last year, given their familiarity with him in Boston, I wouldn’t be surprised – even with his past incidents – if they check in. Because he was released, he would essentially cost nothing more than the prorated portion of the Major League minimum. Again, more on this specific possibility this week.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.