As Kurt pointed out yesterday, it appears that The Shark is going to get first shot at the fifth (or fourth) starter spot. Assuming he wins the position, it’s pretty simple to see what the bullpen might look like on Opening Day...
Some of the roles will need to be sorted out over the coming weeks in Arizona, but these seem to be the favorites to start the year as the relievers.
I’m not sure how people feel about this ‘pen, but I’m unsettled by it if only because of all the new names.
On Opening Day 2008, the Cubs bullpen looked like this...
Scott Erye (15-day DL)
There is only one name on the 2008 list that is going to be on the 2009 roster for the first game: Carlos Marmol. Of course Gaudin, Cotts and Marshall all saw time with the Cubs at some point throughout the season, but Marmol was the only one who was in the bullpen for the entirety of ‘08.
Something about this is very unsettling to me. During spring training last year, I felt very comfortable with the bullpen because it was mainly the same structure as it was in 2007 (except Kerry Wood was the closer and Dempster was in the rotation), but now there are so many unknowns going into this season that I feel like the situation is very unbalanced.
I’ve never spent time in a bullpen (or even pitched a game of baseball in my life for that matter), but I feel that there is a hierarchical structure for relievers that is comforting to fans and players alike. When the players know their roles, they can adjust their mindset properly. Right now though, the roles are unclear...but I guess that’s what spring training is for.
Anyway, as Paul Sullivan of the Trib pointed out a few weeks ago, turnover hasn’t been a bad thing for the Cubs...but this bullpen situation just seems like too big of a question mark to ignore.
As Rob wrote today, there hasn’t been much news coming out of Mesa so far, but I think we are going to be hearing a lot about this bullpen in the coming weeks. Mark my words readers, there will be news.
And maybe the news will be good, and maybe it won’t. I just think it’s ridiculous to sit here an be comfortable with the reliever situation.
First I would like to apologize to all on the site for not putting my thoughts into this type of blogging format before. I'm the new guy, my bad. Well here goes. I am not going to comment on Mark DeRosa, as I would rather bang my head off the bricks at Wrigley than talk any more about his situation.
Instead I am going to concentrate on the one team weakness that I feel is consistently being overlooked; which is the Cubs Bullpen. I was one of the many that was upset to see the Cubs let Kerry Wood walk, and then that fire had gasoline poured all over it soon after the news of the trade for Kevin Gregg broke. So here the team sits on Christmas day with question marks up and down the bullpen, and no one in the organization is willing to actually address the issue. The closer from 2008 is now a member of the Cleveland Indians and God bless America Bob Howry is gone too; so that's basically one step forward and two steps back. Hendry then turns and hands the Marlins an early Christmas present in the form of Jose Ceda, who is and has been a highly regarded relief pitching prospect in the organization. When the news of the trade first broke I expected Jeremy Hermida to be coming to town, but instead we picked up Kevin freakin' Gregg. A player that the Marlins didn't even want to keep around because even they realized he is going to be overpayed in comparison to the production he will give a team. The decision to let Woody go was supposedly based on dollars, but then the Cubs turn around and hand over half of the money it would have taken to keep him to acquire a terrible pitcher with virtually no upside; and we gave up a quality prospect in the process. So where do the Cubs go from here? Do you hand the keys to the car to Marmol and let him be the closer? If not, then I would assume Marmol remains the setup man and Smardjz becomes our closer for 2009. And the final scenario, a true sign of the apacalypse, Kevin Gregg is the Cub's closer with Marmol and Smardjz working as setup men.
So that being said, the back end of the bullpen needs some help. Along those same lines those within the organization that could step in and contribute in the bullpen are mostly younger guys; in which the Cubs really don't know what they can expect from them over the course of a full season. Some of those names include: Sean Marshall, Kevin Hart, Angel Guzman, Chad Gaudin, Michael Wuertz, Neal Cotts, Jose Ascanio, and the unknown soldier Rich Hill. Looking at what we've got and what we need the idea of the bullpen having to finish the game from the 6th inning on is a pretty scary prospect. So basically the bullpen goes from being a strength in 2008 to a weakness in 2009 overnight. I am currently holding my breath until the season starts, in hopes that Angel Guzman joins forces with Carlos Marmol and the two of them transform into the 2-headed Megatron that the Cubs need at the back-end of the bullpen.
So I will end this by asking a few questions. First, what does the team do with Marmol? Do you move him or leave him in a role that he has flourished in? Is Smardjz ready to close at the Major League level? Should the Cubs attempt to trade any of their surplus of middle infielders (Ronny Cedeno) or outfielders (Felix Pie) or starters (Jason Marquis) to add some quality relievers to the bullpen? Finally, would it be worth it to extend a 1 year offer to someone like Trevor Hoffman to bridge the gap to Marmol closing in 2010?
This is going to be a "throw shiz on the wall and see what sticks" kind of article. In other words, I will be talking a little bit about this, a little bit about that, and hopefully will be able to conclude with something like "and that's why the Cubs are awesome."
First, the bullpen.
Contrary to Lou's apparent take on the deal, the Cubs actually have more than one reliable reliever. Point of fact, Cub teams of the past decade would have killed to have many of these relievers as the setup men to such legendary closers as Flash Gordon, LaTroy Hawkins, and Joe Borowski.
Actually, let me preference* this by saying that the fun thing about statistics is that they can be worked and reworked to fit in any situation. So, I'm not taking them that seriously. I'm just presenting them to you in order to allow you the opportunity to take 'em any way you want to.
(*I know, it's supposed to be "preface." It's an inside joke so inside that no other Goat Rider but me even gets it)
Bob Howry, who has been Lou's backup Go-To Setup Man shouldn't be. At this point, his numbers land him in the 6th-7th inning. He's presently on pace to throw damn close to 80 innings, and I think that, at 34, he's just not setup material anymore.
Jon Lieber, meanwhile, has an ERA of 2.53 while out of the bullpen, and better yet, it's 1.86 when not facing the Reds. Maybe Lieber needs to become a 7th-8th inning presence.
Michael Weurtz got his ass handed to him yesterday. However, in his previous 25.1 innings of work, Wuertz had put up an ERA of 1.42. I'd agree with some of his harsher critics and say that Wuertz shouldn't be a setup man, but he's not a bad 7th inning pitcher.
Neal Cotts - I still don't trust him, I won't for a while, but he has been better than Eyre. So far in 15.1 innings of work, Cotts has an ERA of 2.93.
Carlos Marmol - His numbers have been awful, awful, for the last two months, primarily from a handful of really bad outings. He's already made six appearances this month, and I think overuse is becoming a serious issue. At the age of 25, Marmol is on pace to throw 90 innings. If, by the end of the year, he can finish with 75 innings pitched, that would be ideal and he might be fresh for the playoffs.
Other fun stats:
The 55-37 Cubs - who are easily the best team in the NL standings-wise - have scored 498 runs, which remains not only the best in the NL but the second best in all of baseball, behind only the Rangers. Second in runs scored in the NL are the Phillies, who've scored 29 fewer than the Cubs. Pitching-wise, the Cubs have now allowed 389 runs on the year. 3 teams in the NL have allowed fewer - the best being the Dodgers, who have allowed 371.
In terms of the differential, the Cubs have scored 105 more runs than they've allowed. Next best in baseball is Boston, who's a +91. In the NL, the next best are the +80 Phillies. In the central, Milwaukee is +19.
And, on that note, I'm going to get back to work. Because the game starts early and I'm stuck here, there'll be no series preview until later tonight unless Jason - or any other volunteer - delivers in my place.