I doubt you needed Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein to come right out and say it, but if you weren’t aware that this team has two pretty obvious deficiencies, he certainly hinted at them.
First, the Cubs are currently hitting just .216/.334/.346 as a team against lefties, 9% worse than league average by wRC+, and 21st in baseball. Since the start of August, it’s much worse: .180/.295/.273, 61 wRC+, worst in the NL and ahead of only the Indians in baseball. Some of that is because of serious slumps by the Cubs regular righty bats (Kris Bryant, Javy Báez, and Willson Contreras), but some is because they don’t really have great options to rake off the bench against lefties.
From Epstein (Cubs.com)
Asked about the Cubs’ offense before the game, during a session largely filled with talk about the Aug. 31 Trade Deadline, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein mentioned facing lefties as an area of deficiency at the moment.
“There’s certainly things we’re doing well,” Epstein said. “We’re seeing a ton of pitches and all that. We haven’t really hit left-handed pitching that consistently yet. And we’ve gone through some of our contact issues and whatnot. Overall, I’d characterize our offense as doing enough to win, by definition.
“And also, not yet clicking on all cylinders. So I think there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
Internally, setting aside the regulars, the Cubs have several righty bats on the bench, but each comes with concerns going forward about their ability to actually produce when the Cubs overload a righty lineup. Albert Almora, Jr. hasn’t actually hit lefties well in years. Josh Phegley currently isn’t hitting at all. Steven Souza, Jr. is on the IL with a hamstring injury. Even the Cubs’ two regulars who can switch-hit, Ian Happ and Victor Caratini, leave you with questions about their productivity against lefties.
Thus, it sure would be nice to pick up a short-term quality righty bat, probably one who could work into the mix in the outfield when the Cubs want to overload, but don’t necessarily want to have to rely on Almora or Happ. Since the Red Sox are already selling, you’ve gotta think that a guy like Kevin Pillar (good splits against lefties, can play quality defense all over the outfield, minimal salary) could make a lot of sense.
The other glaring need, even in a nine-man bullpen, is for a lefty reliever. The Cubs do have Kyle Ryan, and his velocity looked a little more normal last night. And the Cubs do have an increasingly trustworthy set of core relievers. And the Cubs do have the benefit of the three-batter rule that somewhat neuters the value of match-up lefties.
HOWEVER, we’ve already seen that there are absolutely still situations where you want a lefty to come into a big spot to get out a fellow lefty. Maybe it’s because the moment is so huge that you don’t care about subsequent worse match-ups, or maybe it’s because there are two outs, and if you get out of the inning, then you can take the lefty out. Ideally, you get a lefty who is death on fellow lefties, but also usable against righties.
Or, as Epstein put it, even if it’s a righty with really good reverse splits:
Theo Epstein said adding a lefty bullpen guy or righty that can get left handed hitters out is a trade priority
— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) August 21, 2020
It seems unlikely that Brad Wieck is going to come back this year in time to make a huge difference (45-day IL after a hamstring issue and now a knee issue), and it also seems unlikely that Rex Brothers is going to come back up as a trustworthy piece. So, internally, you’re left either thinking about Jose Quintana as a “lefty” in the bullpen, or bringing up a youngster like Brailyn Marquez or Burl Carraway to play a huge role. Marquez has to go on the 40-man roster after this season anyway, so that’s less of a consideration, but even with Carraway, you’d probably do it if you were highly confident he could dominate. But the experience level for these guys is just so minimal. You can’t act like you know for sure they’d come up and not implode, which would not only damage the Cubs this year, but also would present a developmental risk.
To me, an external addition makes the most sense. The Giants, for one likely seller, are loaded with lefties in their bullpen, though only Tony Watson is the kind of established veteran you could bring in and trust right away. Rental on a cheap contract, though, so why not go for him? Cubs have reportedly targeted him before.
Please remember this for the Trade Deadline, too:
Even at times like this, Make-A-Wish is doing incredible work for kids who need it.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) August 21, 2020