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Which free agent relievers should the Cubs target for 2023?

It’s not just a starting lineup the Cubs have to build.

Why not a CJ reunion?
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

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So, good for David Robertson, who will wind up as a setup man in New York behind closer Edwin Diaz.

This signing got me to thinking about the free agent relief pitcher market, which has stayed fairly untouched so far this offseason.

While you can criticize Jed Hoyer for some of his acquisitions for the Cubs, there is no doubt about one thing: He’s been very good at identifying fungible relief pitchers, acquiring them, having them post pretty good numbers for the Cubs and then flipping them for useful parts for the system. Some of those parts have become good prospects or even performed well in the major leagues for the Cubs.

Over the last two years, Hoyer has traded relievers Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera, Craig Kimbrel, Scott Effross, Chris Martin, Mychal Givens and Robertson.

Returning to the Cubs in those deals, in order: Daniel Palencia, Greg Deichmann, Bailey Horn, Codi Heuer, Nick Madrigal, Hayden Wesneski, Zach McKinstry, Saul Gonzalez and Ben Brown.

Some of those players have already had impact at the MLB level for the Cubs. Others are lower-level prospects (Palencia and Gonzalez in particular) who could have impact in the future.

That’s a pretty good haul, I’d say.

Now, going forward you’d like to see the Cubs sign relievers who could stick with the team and have an impact on a good Cubs club, rather than just being signed to be flipped. The Cubs already have some useful relievers in-house, including Brandon Hughes, Jeremiah Estrada and Adbert Alzolay (yes, I’m assuming he’s now strictly a reliever).

Here are 10 relievers the Cubs might take a chance on for 2023, listed in alphabetical order, including a few familiar names.

Andrew Chafin

Chafin has put up good numbers ever since the Cubs acquired him in late 2020. He had a solid season for a bad Tigers team in 2022 and seemed to enjoy playing in Chicago. He recorded 67 strikeouts in 57⅓ innings this past year with a good walk rate.

Carl Edwards Jr.

Why not continue the reunion tour with CJ? He had a very good year for the Nationals in 2022: 62 games, 2.76 ERA, 1.226 WHIP, a good walk rate, 1.3 bWAR. He’s only 30 and would probably not be expensive.

Luke Jackson

Jackson put together a solid season for Atlanta in 2022: 1.98 ERA, 1.162 WHIP, 2.3 bWAR in 71 appearances. Apart from 2019, when he posted 18 saves, he’s generally been a setup man. He’s 31.

Pierce Johnson

Here’s one who got away — he was a Cubs’ first-round pick (43rd overall) in 2012, pitched one inning for the team in 2017, then the Giants claimed him on waivers. After one mediocre year in San Francisco, he had a lights-out year in Japan in 2019 and then returned to MLB with the Padres. He had two good years in San Diego, then missed most of last year with a forearm injury, which did not require Tommy John surgery.

Johnson is 31 and probably wouldn’t be expensive.

Craig Kimbrel

Well, why not? Kimbrel wasn’t great for the Dodgers in 2022, but he did have his moments. And at age 35 and having already made $113 million playing baseball, he probably wouldn’t be expensive either. Does Kimbrel have one more decent year left in him?

Corey Knebel

The one-time Brewers closer had Tommy John surgery in 2019 and it took him until 2022 to come back to reasonable form with the Phillies. He posted 12 saves for the NL champions and had a 3.46 ERA and 1.366 WHIP in 46 appearances. His walk rate has always been a bit high, so that might be a concern.

Alex Reyes

Want to pay the Cardinals back, sort of, for the Willson Contreras signing? Reyes was once a top starter prospect, got hurt, came back as a top reliever prospect, got hurt again. He didn’t pitch at all in 2022 and had shoulder surgery in May. His 2021 season was quite good: 69 appearances, 29 saves in 33 opportunities. He does walk a lot of guys, so that’s a caveat. He’s only 28.

Jackson Stephens

Stephens pitched two years for the Reds in 2017 and 2018 and then his record shows no MLB time again until 2022. Usually that sort of gap indicates Tommy John surgery, but that’s not the case here — Stephens was just out of MLB-affiliated baseball in 2020 and 2021 before the Braves brought him back last season and he had a decent season: 3.69 ERA, 1.342 WHIP in 39 appearances. He is only 28.

Matt Strahm

Strahm had a good year for the Red Sox — 3.83 ERA, 1.231 WHIP, 52 strikeouts in 44⅓ innings. He’s the same age as Edwards and also probably wouldn’t be expensive.

Matt Wisler

Over the last two years with the Rays, Wisler has posted a 2.21 ERA and 1.000 WHIP in 66 games, with an excellent walk rate (just 19 walks in 73x innings). He just turned 30 in September.


Of the 10 relievers listed above, who would be your top choice for the Cubs to sign?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Andrew Chafin
    (528 votes)
  • 12%
    Carl Edwards Jr.
    (140 votes)
  • 5%
    Luke Jackson
    (61 votes)
  • 3%
    Pierce Johnson
    (39 votes)
  • 6%
    Craig Kimbrel
    (76 votes)
  • 2%
    Corey Knebel
    (34 votes)
  • 10%
    Alex Reyes
    (124 votes)
  • 0%
    Jackson Stephens
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Matt Strahm
    (3 votes)
  • 10%
    Matt WIsler
    (116 votes)
  • 1%
    None of the above
    (23 votes)
  • 0%
    I have a different choice (leave in comments)
    (11 votes)
1157 votes total Vote Now