Back-End Relief Options for the Cubs, Pitcher Service Time, Catcher Split, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Back-End Relief Options for the Cubs, Pitcher Service Time, Catcher Split, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

There is a rumor going around that a number of MLB big wigs are gathering in Las Vegas today to discuss the possible A’s move there, so I wonder if we’re going to get any big news on that front today …

  • Eno Sarris wrote about closer tiers from a pitch analysis perspective, and there are actually quite a few Cubs-connected mentions. I think it’s particularly interesting to see those Cubs mentions since we know that the Cubs do not currently have a clear closer in place. The first mention goes to Rowan Wick in the “is he a closer?” group, given his above-average Stuff+ and presumably his previously-thought trajectory as a future closer. I’m not sure he’s going to be the guy when all is said and done, but I think it was very clear a year and a half ago that the Cubs WANTED him to be the guy. You could tell from the way he was used that David Ross and the Cubs saw closer traits there. But Wick’s performance was uneven, with the results ceasing to match the stuff (and the command getting too shaky). Maybe he gets a shot this year, given the lack of other obvious options at the moment, but I’d be perfectly content for him to just re-establish himself as a solid late-inning option. Perhaps the changes he made late in the year will help.
  • The other two mentions go to new Cub Julian Merryweather and youngster Jeremiah Estrada as possible sleepers. It’s not actually a surprise to see Merryweather here, despite the fact that he was available on waivers – the stuff is outstanding, so if your basis for the list is individual pitch analysis, he’s gonna show up. His 121 Stuff+ metric is right up there with guys like Brusdar Graterol, Matt Brash, and Jhoan Duran, among many others. It’s just that he hasn’t been able to put it together into actual success, thanks mostly to mediocre command and health questions.
  • As for Estrada, the stuff is through the roof, with his four-seam fastball tied with Jacob deGrom’s(!) for the sixth best in baseball. The sample is tiny, and we know that it only plays if he can locate it up and pair it with an effective slider. But the bones are there, and Sarris writes, “That’s the list of the best four-seam fastballs in baseball by Stuff+ in the revised model. Dollars to doughnuts (Estrada is) the closer by the end of the year if not April.” I might take that bet, only because of the many plausible options and the possibility that Estrada could be a little bit up-down as he establishes himself as a back-end reliever. But I think we all know the Cubs see closer upside in Estrada. He has that type of arm, and he rocketed up from High-A to the big leagues last year for a reason.
  • Among the many other possible Cubs closers this year: Brad Boxberger as a veteran, Codi Heuer if he returns strong, Adbert Alzolay certainly has the stuff (only question is if he’s more valuable in multi-innings), Ethan Roberts seemed possible pre-surgery, Brandon Hughes probably wouldn’t because he’s the only lefty, and then there is some guy yet unsigned. I figure it’s gonna be another year of just seeing how it goes for a while until someone stands out or a rhythm is established.
  • People want to give the Cubs crap for how they manage the service time of young players (as all teams do), but the Dodgers are easily the most extreme, despite being one of the “richest” teams. Consider that the Dodgers just signed pitcher Tony Gonsolin to a two-year deal to avoid arbitration … and it’s just his first two of four arbitration years. That’s right, Tony Gonsolin, who has already pitched in significant portions of FOUR BIG LEAGUE SEASONS, was only just now a SUPER TWO. He doesn’t even have three years of service time yet! Gonsolin turns 29 in May, so he won’t reach free agency until his age 33 season despite being a guy who reached the big leagues at 25. And it’s not like he was a struggling performer who had to be shuffled up and down because he was figuring things out – dude has a 2.51 ERA in the big leagues!
  • A lot of that goes ditto for Julio Urias, who is about to appear in his 8th season for the Dodgers, and will only just now tick over six years service time, again, despite being a dude with a 2.81 career ERA. Thing is, when you are overloaded with pitching options, it becomes justifiable/understandable/whatever to be optioning very good young pitchers down from time to time. It’s not *really* about service-time manipulation, because the other guy who is taking those big league innings is also really good! One guy has options left, the other guy doesn’t. Simple as that. It’s a model that a lot of teams would love to employ if they had the volume of controllable talent that the Dodgers have had, and I suppose my point is: don’t give the Cubs crap for it if and when it’s something you see from them in the years ahead as they (theoretically/hopefully) get overloaded with young pitching.
  • A very nerdy thing I was curious about: which of the Cubs’ two catchers is being drafted higher in verrrrry deep fantasy leagues? In other words, I was curious which catcher the fantasy players of the world believe will see more playing time for the Cubs in 2023. Turns out, Yan Gomes is getting drafted way earlier than Tucker Barnhart, on average, which I find to be a mild surprise. Yes, Gomes has slightly better offensive projections and Barnhart is coming off a terrible offensive year in Detroit, but Barnhart has the stronger side of the platoon if the Cubs go that route, and is also three years younger. My gut has been that it would be pretty close to a 50/50 split, if both guys are healthy, with maybe a slight bit more playing time going to Barnhart (because of the lefty bat and the age). In either case, I wouldn’t recommend drafting them for fantasy purposes! That’s not why the Cubs got them in the first place …
  • Marcus Stroman was on CBS’s morning show to talk about the importance of mental health for athletes, something he’s been big on for a long time:
  • David Ross when he gets behind the plate this year:
  • And now he finally returns to baseball, where the Montreal Expos still hold his rights from the 1995 MLB Draft:
  • I mean, I joke, but it wouldn’t actually be THAT crazy for the Washington Nationals (the current incarnation of the Expos) to ask Brady to come to Spring Training for a day and have some fun. We’ve seen it before, and maybe Brady would want to take some hacks.

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.