Wade Davis has been a lockdown closer for the Royals for the last two seasons, including not giving up a single run in eight appearances (10⅔ innings, with 18 strikeouts) in the Royals’ postseason run in 2015, helping lead them to their World Series win.
Now he’ll be closing for the Cubs for at least the 2017 season (he’s a free agent after next year), so where does that leave other Cubs relievers?
In pretty much the same place as they were after the acquisition of Aroldis Chapman last July. Hector Rondon, who closed for the Cubs up to then, will again take on an eighth-inning role, with Pedro Strop moving back to seventh-inning setup duties. Both Rondon and Strop were injured late last year. Strop came back from a knee injury with no apparent aftereffects. Rondon, who had tricep trouble, never quite seemed the same after his return. Neither pitched in Game 7 of the World Series and Rondon didn’t appear after Game 4.
If the Cubs are going to repeat as World Series champions, those two are going to have to return to form. Then the Cubs would have that seventh-eighth-ninth inning trio they dreamed of when they acquired Chapman. It never really worked out that way. Hopefully it will with Davis as closer.
Behind those three, Justin Grimm and Carl Edwards Jr. return. Both had streaks of effectiveness with times where they had trouble getting hitters out. Edwards, in particular, has been thought of as a future closer. Perhaps with a full year in the big leagues with someone else closing, Carls Jr. could be groomed to replace Davis in 2018.
The Cubs will go into 2017 with two lefthanders in the pen, though two different ones than those who closed the 2016 season in relief. Last year Travis Wood and Mike Montgomery were the two lefties in the pen (Montgomery made a few starts too), but Wood’s likely heading elsewhere in free agency and Montgomery is moving fulltime to the starting rotation, replacing Jason Hammel.
Rob Zastryzny pitched effectively in eight appearances (one start) late in 2016 and appears to be ready for a role similar to Wood’s. Former Twins and Orioles reliever Brian Duensing was signed as a free agent, and he could serve as a LOOGY.
Davis, Rondon, Strop, Grimm, Edwards, Zastryzny and Duensing: that’s seven. Modern bullpens generally have eight relievers. The Cubs have a number of rostered choices for that last spot: Felix Pena, Jack Leathersich and Aaron Brooks are the names that stand out to me. No doubt, the Cubs will still be out there looking for other relievers to sign, or perhaps bring to spring training as non-roster guys.
And so the bullpen will have several new faces in 2017. Hopefully, they help produce the same result as the 2016 pen did — a World Series win.