Heading in to the 2013 season, the bullpen for the Chicago Cubs was led by guys like Shawn Camp, James Russell and Carlos Marmol. Russell had another solid season, but both Camp and Marmol were absolutely terrible and the Cubs’ bullpen fell apart because of it. They mixed and matched on the fly early in the 2013 season and the results were pitiful.
Towards the end of the year, the Cubs were able to find a nice mix of players and actually put together a decent bullpen. Kevin Gregg came out of nowhere and was solid for the club in the closers role. Blake Parker‘s role in the pen grew as the season went along and he ended up being a nice piece, finishing with a 2.72 ERA and 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings. The team acquired Pedro Strop in an early July trade with the Baltimore Orioles, and the 28-year-old RHP ended up showing filthy stuff and a ton of promise, posting a 2.83 ERA and 10.8 K/9 in 37 appearances with the Cubs. Carlos Villanueva did a nice job after being moved to the pen from the rotation as well. His versatility will be important for the Cubs in 2014.
This offseason, the Cubs seemed to make it a point to improve the bullpen. After he really faded down the stretch, they let Gregg walk and signed a nice bunch of under-the-radar arms. Jonathan Sanchez was brought in on a minor league deal. The LHP has not pitched out of the bullpen much in his MLB career, but the Cubs are going to give him a shot to win a job in theirs out of spring training.
Another lefty, Wesley Wright, was added and should help free up Russell in the later innings for new manager Rick Renteria. Last season, the Cubs rolled with Russell as the only lefty out of the bullpen for long stretches; adding Wright should put a stop to that. Wright does a fantastic job of getting left-handed batters out, and that will be a welcomed addition to the Cubs’ bullpen.
Jose Veras could be the piece that puts the Cubs’ bullpen over the top. At 33 years old, he has a ton of major league experience, which should help the younger pitchers that the Cubs have in the pen. Last season, playing for both the Houston Astros and Detroit Tigers, Veras had an ERA of 3.02 and WHIP of 1.069. He was the closer for the Astros before getting traded to the Tigers, and he nailed down 21 saves in 25 opportunities. Because of his experience on both the mound and in the role, Veras will probably start the season as closer for the Cubs.
Two other guys to keep an eye on are Kyuji Fujikawa and Arodys Vizcaino. Injuries are currently holding these guys back, but they are both talented pitchers that would play a key role in the pen if healthy. Personally, I do not expect much out of these two this season, but anything positive they give would be great.
The bullpen was an easy piece for the Cubs to sure up this offseason, and they did so very nicely. This team is not ready to compete yet, but this impressive group of arms should be able to hold down leads for the team this season. Strop, Veras and Russell make for an impressive back of the bullpen, and they even have a ton of depth surrounding them. The bullpen is just one less thing that the front office has to worry about.