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BCB After Dark: A Ray of hope in the bullpen?

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks if the Robert Stephenson would make a good addition.

New York Yankees v. Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

It’s another Tuesday night here at BCB After Dark: the swinging-est soiree for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’re so glad to see you again. Or if this is your first time, welcome. Come on in and get warm and enjoy the show. There are still a few good tables available. Bring your own beverage.

BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.

Last night, I offered you the choice of two free agent packages: Shohei Ohtani or Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Cody Bellinger. I expected this to be a harder choice, but most of you wanted to go with Yamamoto and Bellinger by a margin of 71 percent to 29 percent.

So here’s the part where I put the music and the movies. Those of you who skip that can do so now. You wont hurt my feelings.

Tonight we have saxophonist Joe Henderson’s classic tune “Blue Bossa” from his 1963 debut album, Page One. This features Kenny Dorham on trumpet (who also wrote “Blue Bossa”), McCoy Tyner on piano, Butch Warren on bass and Pete La Rocha on drums.

This is just a reminder that you still have time to vote in the BCB Winter Western Classic between Stagecoach and Fort Apache. And up next tomorrow night is director Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and director Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man. (1970) Both films are available on Amazon Prime in the United States, at least.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.

Tonight on the free agent wish list is former Rays reliever Robert Stephenson. We know that the Cubs want to add to the bullpen and many think Stephenson is the best reliever on the market not named Josh Hader.

While you voted in favor of the Cubs signing Josh Hader earlier this winter, it was an unenthusiastic 42 to 31 percent victory. Most of you who were against it seemed to think that Hader wouldn’t be worth what he would get in a free agent contract, mostly in years more than dollars. But maybe Robert Stephenson would be a better and cheaper option.

I’m sure some of you are saying “Wait a minute. I remember this guy. Stephenson stunk with the Reds and Pirates for years.” I’d say you were wrong. You forgot that Stephenson also stunk for the Rockies.

But something happened to Stephenson when he got traded to the Rays in June. The Rays told him to junk his slider and taught him a cutter. Or alternatively, they adjusted the grip on his slider and now it behaves like a cutter.

However you want to describe it, that cutter turned Stephenson into one of the best relievers in the game over the second half of the season. With the Rays, Stephenson pitched 38.1 innings over 42 appearances and he struck out an amazing 60 batters and walked just eight. His ERA with the Rays was 2.35 and opposing hitters had a .138 batting average. The cutter was practically unhittable with an amazing 60 percent whiff rate. Fangraphs ranks it as a plus 12.0 runs saved above average pitch.

So what are the downsides to Stephenson? Obviously, the first issue is that he has pitched in the majors for eight seasons and while he did have enough stretches of success that teams kept employing him, he’s never been a dominating reliever until he got to Tampa Bay. Or even a very good one. He hasn’t been quite as good against left-handers as righties, but it’s not like lefties pound him or anything. The other issue is that he’ll turn 31 in February and he’s going to want a multi-year deal.

Yes, despite only half a season of dominance, some team is going to give him at least two years and maybe he’ll get three from some team. A two-year, $24 million offer is probably the minimum that gets some interest from Stephenson. I can see a team going to three years and $30 million. Maybe even a little more. That’s a lot for someone who hasn’t really been good before June.

On the other hand, Stephenson has 97 mile-per-hour fastball. That cutter averages 89 and is practically unhittable. If you believe in the cutter and that he can maintain it, then Stephenson could be a superior reliever for the next three years. All that at a fraction of what Josh Hader would cost.

So knowing what he would cost, both in terms of money and years, should the Cubs sign right-handed reliever Robert Stephenson?


Should the Cubs sign Robert Stephenson?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    (107 votes)
  • 18%
    (43 votes)
  • 35%
    (83 votes)
233 votes total Vote Now

Thank you for stopping in. I hope you had as good a time as we did. If you checked anything, let us get that for you. Please get home safely. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again tomorrow for more BCB After Dark.