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Roenis Elias could be the Cubs’ secret bullpen weapon

The lefthander was a good under-the-radar acqusition.

Roenis Elias pitching for the Mariners last June
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Many of us — perhaps you! — hope the Cubs will still reunite with lefthander Andrew Chafin, who’s still unsigned only about three weeks away from the beginning of spring games.

In case that doesn’t happen, though, the Cubs might already have in camp, on a minor-league deal, a lefthander who could be “the next Chafin.” One thing Jed Hoyer has been quite good at during his tenure as Cubs President of Baseball Operations is finding undervalued relievers and getting good value out of them.

Roenis Elias could be the next such reliever. Originally signed in 2011 out of Cuba by the Mariners, Elias had a couple of middling years as a starter for Seattle in 2014 and 2015 and was then traded to the Red Sox for, among others, former Cub Wade Miley.

Elias spent a lot of 2016 in the Red Sox minor leagues, then missed most of 2017 with injuries. He was traded back to the Mariners in 2018 and had a decent year in relief, then wound up as Seattle’s closer for the first half of 2019 (14 saves, one blown save) before he was traded to the Nationals at the deadline. After only four appearances for the Nats, he suffered a hamstring injury and missed the rest of the season. One assumes the Nats gave him a World Series ring anyway.

He didn’t pitch at all in 2020 due to another injury (left flexor strain) and signed back with the Mariners for 2021. He never made it out of Spring Training, suffering a torn UCL. Tommy John surgery kept Elias out for the entire 2021 season and about half of 2022. He made seven appearances for Seattle last year and became a free agent at the end of the season, eventually winding up with the Cubs.

That’s the end of the story up to now — oh, wait, no it’s not, because Elias threw lights-out in winter ball in the Dominican Republic:

I’m not sure why Twitter translation isn’t working for that tweet, but Google Translate says:

Another great performance by Roenis Elías!

He racked up a 42-inning scoreless streak at LIDOM. He now has a 7-0 record, with a 0.77 ERA between the regular season and the semifinal series. In 58.2 innings he has struck out 59.

Overall with Aguilas, Elias posted an 0.92 ERA and 0.769 WHIP in seven starts covering 39 innings. He allowed just one home run, walked 10 and struck out 38.

Now, caveats: 1) Winter ball and 2) small sample size. But watching that video above, it certainly looks like Elias can throw at least as well as he did in 2019. He’s 34 and I’d think it he shows well in Spring Training, he’ll make the Opening Day roster.

Elias will be departing Cubs camp to play for Cuba in the World Baseball Classic, but you can be sure he’ll get a good look before he leaves and then some meaningful innings (some sources show him in the Cuba rotation) in the WBC.

The Cubs could use another lefty to pair with Brandon Hughes in the bullpen. Perhaps Jed Hoyer has turned up another good reliever from the dumpster pile.