It’s rare that a team’s President gets to tease a signing before it is (1) reported by an outlet, or (2) announced by the team, but Jed Hoyer gave us that treat yesterday by acknowledging that a big league signing was coming to the bullpen soon. No names, though.
If you bet on “extremely high upside bounce-back option,” you win the prize – it’s Brandon Workman:
Brandon Workman is nearing a deal with the Cubs that guarantees him $1 million, sources told The Athletic. Workman, the former Red Sox reliever, has a chance to earn up to $3 million out of the Cubs bullpen.
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) February 17, 2021
Workman, 32, was a long-time, well-regarded starting pitching prospect with the Red Sox who reached the big leagues, and just couldn’t establish himself in that role. So he bounced in and out of the rotation and bullpen for a couple years, and then finally settled into a permanent bullpen job in 2017, as a split-neutral righty middle reliever. He was quite good that year and in 2018, before exploding in 2019 as an elite back-end option thanks to a monster increase in his strikeout rate and groundball rate:
We’ll have to dig in more deeply on what happened in 2019, but a quick look indicates he started to see dramatically better results with his curveball, so he started throwing it a ton more, which may have improved the effectiveness of his four-seamer and cutter, as he was showing them less. He also saw a velocity bump on the four-seamer (from around 91.5 mph to around 93 mph), which probably helped.
Last year, with a trade mixed in, Brandon Workman’s results were terrible. His strikeout rate plummeted from 36.4% to just 22.8%, and he was getting hammered. By every measure of contact, he was just getting smoked (including his formerly excellent curveball). So I’m not yet sure just what was off, but I would imagine the Cubs have identified it, and think they can get him back to something closer to what he was in 2017/18, at least. The price tag suggests teams were generally convinced he couldn’t get back to the insane 2019 season, however.
But hey, get him in the door at a cheap price tag, and see what happens. If the stuff was still there in 2020, maybe he’s a tweak away from being back to something you’d love having in the 6/7/8 inning range. Although I’m very high on the Cubs’ ability to take their motley crew of arms and turn it into a good bullpen – such that I didn’t think any kind of big dollar signing was necessary if resources were limited – I’m also very high on the Cubs taking $1 million swings on a guy who has flashed extreme upside. They’ve done this before, and they’ve had great success before.