Presently, here are the following relievers you could reasonably expect to open the season in the Cubs’ bullpen and be solid contributors (or at least utilized as if they were solid contributors, because, hey, nothing is ever certain with relievers):
- Craig Kimbrel
- Tyler Chatwood/Alec Mills (if one is in the rotation)
- Kyle Ryan
- Rowan Wick
… end of list.
And when you’re looking to have a bullpen with, say, seven very solid options and then a rotating group in the eight/nine slots, that means you’re going to have to add/develop a lot of reliever impact.
To that end, it’s not like President Theo Epstein is unaware of the issue. He told the Tribune as much, within the context of Tyler Chatwood’s role: “The bullpen is a priority either way. We’re going to need to hit on a number of relievers this winter and rebuild a good portion of that bullpen whether Chatwood is in it or not.”
So then, you should expect the Cubs to dedicate considerable effort not only to free agent options in the bullpen (the less pricey tier, probably, but please look seriously at Drew Pomeranz!), and also to trying to acquire guys that they think are on the cusp of big league success with a little tweaking in the Cubs org.
Oh and also, the other answer is … Brandon Morrow!
OK, no, not actually. But Epstein responded exactly the right way when asked about the possibility that Morrow would return on a minor league deal.
“When healthy, he can certainly be a big part of the solution,” Epstein said of Morrow, per Cubs.com. “We appreciate his sentiments about, if he’s going to sign a Minor League deal, he feels there’s a responsibility that it should be here. That certainly seems like the type of thing that should make sense for both sides down the road.”
Key phrases there are “when healthy,” and “seems like the type of thing that should make sense for both sides down the road.” In other words, even on a minor league deal, the Cubs are going to track Morrow’s progress trying to come back from his latest surgery. No one is going to count on him being an important piece of the bullpen *even if* the Cubs sign him.