The Cubs Have Reportedly Considered Javier Assad for the Bullpen

Most of the fifth starter conversation centers around Hayden Wesneski and Adrian Sampson. That’s the product of multiple things happening at once, from Wesneski’s upside against Sampson’s success last year, to Assad’s departure for the WBC, to Wesneski being perceived as a “true starter prospect,” to Assad breaking out later, and so on and so forth. I don’t think we should wholly exclude Assad, but as I’ve said, I also think this decision has already been made (or should be) in favor of Wesneski anyway.

So, then. Let’s talk a little bit about Assad going forward. Most expect that he’ll head to Triple-A Iowa to continue starting, where he’ll serve as primary depth for the rotation at the big league level, where needs will inevitably arise.

But is there another approach? We should at least discuss it. Since the Cubs apparently have.

If the rotation crowding and his recent 97 mph fastball in the WBC put the thought in your head, yes, the Cubs have considered what Assad would look like in relief this year (The Athletic): “[Javier] Assad was already in the running to be the No. 5 starter in the major-league rotation or the sixth starter held in reserve at Triple-A Iowa, but the Cubs are also considering using him out of the Wrigley Field bullpen.”

Considering it, eh? At a facial level, it certainly makes sense: the only reason Assad was in the rotation competition in the first place is because he’s, you know, good!

If Assad’s offseason velocity work has him capable of sitting 96-97 mph during the regular season in relief, then it’s not at all hard to see how he could be an impact reliever (he’d be able to lean on the fastball, cutter, and slider much more heavily). He wouldn’t be the first guy who was presenting as a maybe 4/5 starter at the big league level, but then who wound up showing out in the bullpen.

Of course, the flip side is that you don’t want to go that route if you think he also has the skill set to be a quality starter (and, if he can sit 94-95 mph with the fastball as a starter and actually hold it deep into outings? let’s just say my head has been thoroughly turned). A *good* 4/5 starter is worth a heckuva lot more than a good reliever.

Mulling things, I think you would open the season with Assad in the bullpen only if two things are true for the Cubs.

(1) Say the Cubs were convinced they weren’t going to give Assad a chance to start until both Hayden Wesneski and Adrian Sampson were otherwise occupied or unavailable (AND Kyle Hendricks isn’t back yet), and

(2) Say the Cubs feel like Assad could be so overwhelmingly good in the bullpen that they don’t want to waste the bullets in the minors. Like I said, I can envision a relief version of Assad being better than some of the Cubs’ other relievers (even considering all the crowding). Maybe that makes you start to think about just going with a good old fashioned use the best pitchers approach.

We have to keep remembering that good organizations with huge inflows of pitching talent send their young pitchers in and out of the bullpen all the time for the first few years, so even if Assad did see meaningful time in the bullpen this year as a true reliever, it’s not like that forever closes the door on him starting down the road.

I tend to think, when all the sorting and planning is complete, the Cubs will have eight other relievers they want in the Opening Day bullpen, when weighed against the value of letting Assad keep stretched out at Iowa. But this is all pretty interesting to think about.

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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