We are now less than two weeks out from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training and the Cubs could still use some help in one department: their bullpen. Every indication is that they will still sign a veteran reliever before camp opens. They just seem to be taking it right down to the wire.
Earlier this week they re-signed Mark Leiter Jr. on a minor league deal with a chance to compete for a major league roster spot. No offense to Mark, as he did alright for the Cubs in 2022, the only way I want to see him breaking camp on the big league roster is if he is filling in for an injured pitcher. There are still some intriguing names on the market that could prove to be a significant addition to the 2023 bullpen.
The first of those would be our old friend, Andrew Chafin. I wrote about Chafin here back in December. Nothing has changed on that front. He remains unsigned. I still think a returning Chafin would be very valuable to the Cubs.
Zack Britton is an option. He has 154 career saves across 12 major league seasons. Britton has 532 career strikeouts in 641 innings pitched with an ERA of 3.13 and a WHIP of 1.264. While he has been good in the past I don’t know what you can expect out of him for the 2023. He will be 35 coming off a missed season with Tommy John surgery. I think if you are only signing one veteran reliever you should pass on Britton. That being said, I will revisit Britton at the end of this.
2022 Phillies reliever, Brad Hand remains on the market also. Hand has struck out 723 over 718.1 innings in his career. That being said his strikeout percentage has dropped over the last two years. From 2016-2020, 33.3% of opposing batters went back to the dugout following a punchout. That number was 19.2% last season. His ERA, however, was well below his career average at 2.80.
Matt Moore prospered in during the 2022 season in his newfound relief role. The lefty had a 1.95 ERA with 83 strikeouts in 74 innings pitched. Moore will turn 34 in June. Will Moore be able to continue this success in his mid-30’s or will last season prove to be a fluke?
Will Smith walked 25 batters across 59 innings split between Atlanta and Houston. His ERA of 3.97 was above his career average and third highest season of his career. He did strikeout 65 over the course of those 59 innings. He is another guy entering his mid-30’s with questions about what might be left in the tank at this point.
After splitting time between Detroit and Minnesota, Michael Fulmer found himself a free agent at the end of the 2022 season. Fullmer carried an ERA of 3.39 which was below his career line of 3.89. He struck out 61 batters in 63.2 innings and had a 1.366 WHIP.
Obviously there are more pitchers available behind these guys but these are the best options available at this time. My order of preference would be the following:
- Chafin- I’m a little biased from his time with the Cubs. He is, however, someone that can be counted on year-in and year out.
- Moore- He did some of the best pitching of his career last year. I would like to believe that will carry over to this season.
- Hand- Same thing. It maybe wishful thinking but I am choosing to believe that Hand figured some things out and will be able to carry over his 2022 success into the new season.
- Fulmer/Smith- I don’t really have a favorite between the two of these guys. They can still be a solid addition to the Cubs bullpen if it comes down to it and an upgrade over some guys on the current roster.
As promised, here is my added input on Britton. If the Cubs are siging one man from the guys I have talked about, I want it to be one of the other five and not Britton. He’s older. He is coming off an injury. I just don’t trust him at this point. I’m also greedy. I would really like two of those five but I don’t believe that would be in the budget for this season. That’s where Britton comes in for me. I think you can take the risk on Britton if you already have one of the other guys. He could possibly be coming cheaper on a prove it deal since he is coming off the injury. Maybe he works out at that point, maybe he doesn’t.
A signing should be coming soon. We will be hearing the pop of the catchers’ mitts soon. Not long after that the crack of the bat. We are inching closer to Opening Day 2023.
Featured Image: Alex Gallardo / Associated Press