The Chicago Cubs have had a busy offseason, which speaks to how many needs Jed Hoyer had to address to improve from 2022 and also how the team’s deep farm system is still a year or two away from really becoming a factor at the big league level. Nonetheless, it’s been a solid group of free agents, headlined by Dansby Swanson and Jameson Taillon. However, there is still one area where the Cubs could use a player with a solid track record and that’s in the bullpen.
Out of the eight players who have signed MLB deals with the Cubs so far this offseason only one has been a reliever, that being right-hander Brad Boxberger. But beyond that, the Cubs only have Brandon Hughes as a guaranteed bullpen arm from the left side when you take a look at the team’s current roster.
So, it’s no surprise that we are still hearing about the Cubs looking at free agent lefties for the bullpen. Here’s what Patrick Mooney wrote about the Cubs and their continued pursuit of adding to their reliever group this offseason, specifically naming five left-handed relief pitchers.
Via The Athletic.
Jed Hoyer’s front office hasn’t stopped looking for ways to upgrade the bullpen, and there’s still a group of left-handed relievers available on the free-agent market that includes Matt Moore, Brad Hand, Andrew Chafin, Zack Britton and Caleb Smith.
Definitely some interesting names in that list. Let’s take a closer look.
MLB Experience: 9 years
2022 Stats: 64 Games, 2.83 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 67 K, 19 BB, 57.1 IP, 19 Holds, 3 Saves
I mean, hell yeah Cubs fans want Andrew Chafin back at Wrigley Field. He was first acquired via trade in 2020, getting him from the Arizona Diamondbacks and then Chafin re-signed heading into the next season. He quickly became a fan-favorite and was really damn good in 2021, posting a 2.06 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in 43 appearances before he was traded to the Oakland A’s, and he was even better in the bay, recording a 1.53 ERA in 29.1 IP. In 2022, Chafin pitched for the Detroit Tigers and turned in another sub-3 ERA season.
MLB Experience: 11 years
2022 Stats: 63 Games, 1.95 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 83 K, 38 BB, 74 IP, 14 Holds, 5 Saves
Matt Moore was once a very good starting pitcher with the Tampa Bay Rays when he first came up to the big leagues, but after some below average years since 2016, he transitioned into a bullpen role with the Texas Rangers in 2022 and he was spectacular. The walks were high, but Moore was striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings with the Rangers. We’ve seen several pitchers go from the starting rotation to the bullpen and reinvent their careers. Maybe the Cubs think 2022 was the real deal for Moore moving forward.
MLB Experience: 12 years
2022 Stats: 55 Games, 2.80 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 38 K, 23 BB, 45 IP, 13 Holds, 5 Saves
Brad Hand has pitched for seven franchises during his 12-year MLB career, but ever since he became a permanent reliever with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he’s been consistently good for seven straight seasons. The only blip since the start of 2016 for Hand was his 11-game stint with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2021, after he was traded to the AL East team by the Washington Nationals. He ended up back in the National League to end the season, when the New York Mets claimed him off waivers. From 2016-22, Hand has a 2.89 ERA in 429 relief outings. He could also bring closer experience, as Hand has 131 career saves.
MLB Experience: 6 years
2022 Stats: 44 Games, 4.11 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 65 K, 39 BB, 70 IP, 6 Holds, 0 Saves
Caleb Smith is another pitcher who began his MLB being a part of a starting rotation before eventually turning to the bullpen. Smith’s 4.11 ERA in 2022, doesn’t look impressive, but taking a closer look to his season with the Arizona Diamondbacks he only had one bad outing, giving up five earned runs in three innings against the Mets in April. Smith also made 14 multi-inning appearances out of the bullpen. Overall as a reliever during his career, Smith has a 3.53 ERA in 139.1 innings.
MLB Experience: 12 years
I’m not including Zack Britton’s 2022 stats because he only pitched in three games for the New York Yankees at the very end of the season after coming back from Tommy John surgery, which he had in Sept. 2021. I wrote about Britton earlier in the offseason as a potential free agent target for the Cubs and I still think he can be good fit. You can read more about Britton here. Before his elbow injury, Britton was dominant with the Yankees and was still a ground ball machine in New York after having a great run with the Baltimore Orioles. He could also be a closer option for David Ross if he’s back to 100%.
We’ll see how aggressive the Cubs will be in this department, considering the team is about $6 million shy of the first tier of the luxury tax threshold. Is Hoyer OK going over in 2023, knowing the payroll will come down a lot after 2023 or does he want some flexibility for a potential addition later in the summer if the Cubs end up being real contenders?
But we’ll turn the question to you, out of the five left-handers discussed, who do you prefer or is there someone else you want to see the Cubs go after? Let us know in the comments and join the conversation Wednesday night at 8 p.m. on the Pinwheels And Ivy Podcast.