Some arms got thrown into the fray that clearly didn’t belong there, some had to figure it out. Some the league figured out. The problem was that a good portion of the relief corps in 2023 was of the first quality, and some had to stay anyway.
The staff wore out. The whole team wore out. I saw a fan theory that said that they considered the stretch drive to make the Cubs a buyer rather than a seller depleted their energy to the point that they didn’t have enough by season’s end.
I don’t know if I buy that completely, but I might be interested in building a new kit from some of the parts, if you thrown in some of David Ross’ more questionable decisions and the general lack of quality arms the Cubs had on hand.
People were coming in from a year on the IL, throwing an inning, and disappearing again, it seemed like. Mark Leiter Jr. as the only “lefty” made me crazy (okay, crazier). The ‘circle of trust’ did, too.
“Smyly and Assad are your swing men,” I would holler at the TV (my hobby). “Leiter in the middle.” It became a mantra of sorts. Late in the year especially, when Ross would send out Daniel Palencia against lefties while the looming menace of Luke Little glowered from the pine. “That’s your late men, Mr. Ross. Alzolay closes.”
Smyly’s coming back, unless he’s traded. Put him there until he relinquishes the position. Have a farm lefty behind him on the depth chart. Make it Ben Brown just to put a name there. Bailey Horn needs a 40-man spot if you want him, and I’d give him a shot to replace Leiter if Brandon Hughes is unable. There’s going to be room. Boxberger, Burdi, Duffy, Green, are all pretty likely to lose their spots. Leiter and Julian Merryweather are arb-eligible. Codi Heuer is, too. Your call on them.
The rotation right now seems like:
Which is a bit different than Opening Day 2023. Hayden Wesneski didn’t pan out, much to many people’s surprise, and Taillon was awful. Steele and Stroman were lights-out but were fighting the lack of early-season offense and Wicks was under the radar. Smyly ended up in the pen after a rollercoaster campaign. Hendricks returned from injury and was reasonably effective.
Meanwhile a passel of relievers rode the Iowa shuttle, and most of them didn’t stay. Some guys did okay but got hurt, and most were effective in stretches.
- Javier Assad
- Brad Boxberger
- Nick Burdi
- Jose Cuas
- Jeremiah Estrada
- Michael Fulmer
- Shane Greene
- Brandon Hughes
- Caleb Kilian
- Mark Leiter Jr.
- Luke Little
- Julian Merryweather
- Daniel Palencia
- Michael Rucker
- Keegan Thompson
All of these men toiled in the bullpen in 2023, with varying effectiveness. Michael Fulmer is another arm worth considering, depending on how young you want to get. It looks like you need six-to-eight quality arms for your staff and a dozen or so for the pen, and the big question is how many you can stash at Triple-A, and how many need 40-man spots. There aren’t any noteworthy Free Agents on the 2024 list right now. We’ll have to glance at this again after the World Series.
Most of the vets stashed at Iowa didn’t come up big, though. Hoyer had a bad crop this time around and will have to find a couple of quality arms. Right now the pen, using players that are signed, looks like:
- Smyly (L)
- Hughes (L)
- Little (L)
You can see where a couple of spots could use an upgrade. I need a lot less walks from my pen. Merryweather doesn’t really give me that (4.5 BB/9), and Palencia (4.45 BB/9) throws just as hard and is slightly less wild, plus is much younger and has options. With Wesneski, Palencia, and Little, the Cubs at least have some flame on the bench, but I’d really really like a good veteran setup man to move Palencia down for more seasoning. That’d both help the MLB pen and add quality depth to the roster. We’ll have to see who becomes available.
Iowa has to help. The failure of Triple-A players to function at the major-league level, to step-up to The Show, was a big part of why the Cubs’ staff failed, in the end, to deliver on the promise they flashed.
Whether that was stashees or young players, most didn’t pan out. That’ll have to improve for the Cubs to take a step up.
You, of course, might have your own ideas.
We’ll take a look back at these last two epistles after the World Series, when the Free Agency dominoes begin to fall. Next, we’ll start looking at some prospects in-depth. Ben Brown and Bailey Horn, mentioned here, will certainly be among those thumbnailed.
Thanks for reading.