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What are the Cubs going to do with all their extra relievers?

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There’s a glut of guys in the minors and on injury rehab, and the squeeze gets worse when Craig Kimbrel is activated.

Who will fill these seats in the Cubs bullpen when Craig Kimbrel joins the team?
Al Yellon

The current Cubs bullpen consists of the following relievers: Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Brandon Kintzler, Tyler Chatwood, Brad Brach and Kyle Ryan.

One of those pitchers will have to be removed from the active roster when Craig Kimbrel is activated in a couple of weeks.

But beyond that, Theo & Co. made several signings of relief pitchers with big-league experience over the winter in an effort to build up some depth. Decisions will have to be made soon regarding a couple of these players. This article is intended to examine what those decisions might be.

First, it seems likely that Brach is odd-man-out when Kimbrel is activated. Brach’s walk rate (eight per nine innings) is horrific and he’s been particularly bad recently. In his last nine outings (covering 8⅓ innings since May 15), he has a 10.80 ERA and 2.520 WHIP and in his last outing June 5 against the Rockies, he turned a potential blowout into a close game, facing five batters and retiring just one of them.

I suspect that Brach is suffering from some minor injury — it’s said that all pitchers have these kinds of things during the season — and will wind up on the injured list.

I know, you are shocked, shocked that potential not-real injuries place players on the injured list in Major League Baseball.

I suppose Ryan, who has options remaining, could be sent to Triple-A Iowa when Kimbrel is activated. But that would leave the Cubs with only one lefthander in the bullpen, and that lefty (Montgomery) might be better used for multi-inning relief appearances.

There are other relievers currently on the injured list about whom decisions might have to be made soon.

Tony Barnette, who the Cubs signed to a one-year, $750,000 contract (with a team option for 2020) before the season, has been on the IL all year with shoulder issues. He was on a rehab assignment in late April, suffered a setback, and has recently begun another rehab assignment with better results: four appearances since June 1, no runs, 0.500 WHIP, four strikeouts in four innings.

Barnette has had big-league success with the Rangers, but I don’t see any room for him in this bullpen. He’ll have to be activated from the rehab assignment by July 1, as that’s when the maximum 30 days on such an assignment expires. His contract is such that the Cubs could simply grant him free agency when the rehab assignment ends.

Xavier Cedeno made five mostly forgettable relief appearances for the Cubs last month after starting the season on the 10-day IL, and he then returned to the IL with a recurrence of the wrist injury that put him there in the first place. The Cubs can likely keep him there for a while, as he doesn’t appear near to rehab-assignment time.

Presuming those three (Brach, Barnett and Cedeno) are healthy, I suppose they could be traded. But the only teams that would want to trade for pitchers like that would be other contending teams, and they’re not going to give up much for them. For better or worse, the Cubs are stuck with those three, at least for this year.

Then there’s Brandon Morrow, about whom the best you can say is probably ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

This statement, I think, is telling:

The latest info on Morrow’s potential return appears to be this:

He’s a long way from a bullpen session, facing live hitters in BP, or a rehab assignment, based on that. I would not be surprised, at this point, if he never threw another pitch for the big-league Cubs.

Allen Webster went on the 10-day IL with what was termed “radial nerve inflammation in his right arm,” conveniently, the very day that Cedeno was activated, and was moved to the 60-day to make room for Kimbrel on the 40-man roster. There’s been no word about Webster, a bullpen session, facing live hitters in BP, or a rehab assignment. I would not be surprised, at this point, if he never threw another pitch for the big-league Cubs.

Yes, I essentially repeated those paragraphs on purpose.

Dillon Maples, Tim Collins, James Norwood, Randy Rosario and Rowan Wick have all pitched in the big leagues for the Cubs this year. I wouldn’t expect to see any of them back, barring multiple injuries on the big-league staff, before September. Same for Alec Mills, who was on the 25-man roster for three days in April without appearing in a game, and for Adbert Alzolay, one of the Cubs’ better pitching prospects. Alzolay has been throwing well for Iowa but would probably be better off staying in the I-Cubs rotation until September. Same for Duane Underwood Jr., who has been shifted to the bullpen at Iowa and has done well.

This year is the last one where teams will be able to carry as many as 40 players during September. The Cubs might be able to take advantage of that this fall, but starting in 2020, teams will only be allowed to expand September rosters to 28 players.

And so all of this can be seen as depth for the Cubs in 2019. Some of these pitchers won’t be back in 2020 and some (Barnette, for example) might not throw a big-league pitch for the Cubs at all.

Poll

Who will be removed from the 25-man roster when Craig Kimbrel is activated?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    Brad Brach
    (502 votes)
  • 18%
    Someone else (leave in comments)
    (113 votes)
615 votes total Vote Now