Assad and the Rotation, Barnhart Un-Switching, Competitiveness and Failure, Lefty Relievers, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Assad and the Rotation, Barnhart Un-Switching, Competitiveness and Failure, Lefty Relievers, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

Gotta get meditation back into my routine. It’s something that really works well for me when I can stick with it, but it’s one of those life-health things that I just can’t seem to get over the hump into “habit” mode (where you’re just doing it every day without even having to make an explicit plan for it).

  • Like I said last night, the camera angle at Camelback (and lack of velocity readings) made it a little difficult to say for sure how well Javier Assad was pitching, outside of the excellent results he got over his two innings. I do like hearing this from his catcher, Tucker Barnhart (Sun-Times): “It’s early in spring, sure, but there’s things that you can see that are just going to continue to translate over. Whether it’s the fastball playing up in the strike zone, the slider being good down, the action on the slider being good – whether it’s early in spring or not, those things translate, for sure.”
  • I was told by someone in the stadium that Assad was sitting 92 mph, which wouldn’t be too bad for February (he sat 92.5 mph last year), and it might make 93/94 a realistic possibility for the regular season (Assad did velocity training this offseason). With good enough command, and if his cutter and slider still play, you could see a really solid 4/5 starter there. I don’t think Assad has mid-rotation upside, even if things go right, but I would be thrilled if he winds up making, say, 15 big league starts this year at a league-average ERA. The peripherals and scouting from last year would suggest a sustainable league-average ERA isn’t in the cards for him without improvement in stuff and/or command, but given how much he improved/developed from 2021 to 2022, I wouldn’t rule out another step forward in 2023.
  • Assad, who is competing for an opening week rotation spot, was taking the start in place of Justin Steele, who was scratched with general arm fatigue. David Ross said it was an “erring on the side of caution” situation, and that there isn’t an expectation that it will impact the rotation. If it did, you’re reminded that the Cubs have three “fifth starter” competitors, all of whom could slide into the rotation at the end of spring if someone like Steele needed an extra week or two. Also note that Assad, who is pitching for Team Mexico, will leave for the WBC in about a week.
  • We await results on Seiya Suzuki’s oblique imaging, which I will continue to hope is the Cubs being aggressive in testing BEFORE he would otherwise leave for the WBC. If anything at all shows up on a scan, then it would be pretty hard to let Suzuki go play, as much as that would suck.
  • Barnhart confirmed on the broadcast that he’s ditching switch-hitting again this year (he’s done it before), so he’ll bat exclusively from the left side. That should make sense in any case, as he’s paired with righty Yan Gomes behind the plate. Though I tend to think, with catchers, you’re not always able to play platoons as much as you want, since your own starting pitcher that day might dictate who catches, rather than the opposing starting pitcher. For his career, Barnhart’s numbers as a lefty against lefties are terrible (39 wRC+), though they are also terrible as a righty against lefties (57 wRC+). So, if hitting only from the left side will help him be more comfortable overall, and could improve his performance against righties, then whatever. Just try to limit his appearances against lefties as much as possible.
  • Agree completely that 77 wins would be a failure:
  • I would actually go further. Although I won’t say that missing the playoffs this year would be a “failure,” I would say that not being in contention for a playoff spot for most or all of this season would be a “failure.” Don’t even get me started on how much of a failure it would be if the Cubs are clear sellers again come late June.
  • Lefty relievers Zack Britton, Brad Hand, and Will Smith still haven’t signed. My guess would be that each is still looking for a guaranteed deal and that’s kinda the hold-up, and teams are playing a game of chicken to see if one or any will take a minor league deal (which gives the team time to make a decision by the end of camp). In the meantime, if there is an injury or two, maybe that sorts things and a team jumps to grab one of these guys.
  • As for the Cubs, clearly they’re content to roll with the bullpen competitors they have in-house (they do have a TON of theoretical lefty options if they want a second to pair with Brandon Hughes, plus Mark Leiter Jr.’s splitter makes him basically a “lefty”). I’m sure they’d jump on one or any of those free agents on a minor league deal, because why not, but they might otherwise be content at this point to let in-house options compete.
  • Good for this guy. Hope he just rakes this year with the Royals:
  • It just kept going, and going, and going:
  • Cubs fans remember Pedro Báez well for his NLCS appearances. As soon as he got the call from the bullpen that series, you knew you were safe to go make yourself a snack and get another beer. And take up knitting.

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.