Chicago Cubs: Team should acquire bullpen help as soon as possible

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs may have one of the best records in the National League, but the bullpen issues need to be addressed now.

After a disastrous 2-7 start to the season, the Chicago Cubs have bounced back in a major way, moving into first place in the tough NL Central and firmly planting their name on the list of World Series contenders.

Although things have certainly gotten better since the season’s first two weeks, that rough start quickly revealed the Cubs weakness – the bullpen.

Even after turning their season around so quickly, the Cubs’ relief corps is desperately in need of some meaningful reinforcements, and they need it soon.

You may be thinking that the Cubs bullpen has been pretty good since the team overcame its tough start, and you’d be right about that. Since April 8th, the date the Cubs won their third game of the season and started righting the ship, the bullpen’s ERA is 2.79. That’s the best mark in the National League.

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While the Cubs relievers have been able to prevent runs during that stretch, there are signs that indicate the success may not continue.

As a whole, the Cubs bullpen ranks 20th of all major league teams in strikeout rate since April 8th. Even worse, they rank 28th in walk rate during that time span. Only the Seattle Mariners‘ and Miami Marlins‘ bullpens have walked batters at a higher rate than the Cubs’ 11.9 percent mark. That’s not good company.

The relief group has certainly been effective at preventing the opposition from plating too many runs thus far, but it’s unlikely that their strong performance can continue when peripheral numbers don’t support it.

In addition to unfavorable strikeout and walk rates, the Cubs bullpen is currently without two of its best relievers. Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop both sit on the team’s Injured List, and it isn’t wise to count on either of them to be staples in the back end of the ‘pen once they return.

Strop’s hamstring injury is the third flare up he’s had in eight months, so even though he should return to the team soon, it’s impossible to guarantee his health the rest of the season.

Morrow’s situation is even less certain. He hasn’t seen game action since before the All-Star Break last year, and just recently resumed throwing on flat ground for the first time since his setback earlier this spring.

If both Morrow and Strop can return, it totally changes the Cubs’ late-inning relief situation and adds a ton of depth to the bullpen. Unfortunately, there’s no way to count on that actually happening.

Given the current state of the bullpen, the Cubs will surely be seeking relief help at the trade deadline, just like they have in each of the past few years. But why should they wait until late July to make a move when the bullpen needs help now?

With the trade market all but nonexistent before July rolls around, if the Cubs start seeking trade partners now, they would be able to negotiate freely with teams looking to move bullpen arms without worrying about their price being matched or even bested by other competitors looking for bullpen help. Since nearly every team with playoff ambitions wants to bolster their ‘pen before the trade deadline, shopping now could net them a better price.

Just look at a brilliant move the Washington Nationals made last season. On June 18th, the Nats acquired Kelvin Herrera in a trade with the Kansas City Royals, about six weeks prior to the trade deadline.

It was a great acquisition for the Nationals, as they landed one of the best relievers available (he had a 1.05 ERA at the time of the trade), got an extra month and a half of work from him, and were able to only give up three fringe prospects in return.

The Nationals plan didn’t work out as they missed the playoffs and Herrera’s time in the nation’s capital was marred by two stints on the Disabled List, but nonetheless, it was executed phenomenally. The Nationals had a great blueprint, and the Cubs would be wise to copy it.

With the gap between World Series contenders and teams mired in rebuilds continuing to grow, more teams than ever are already out of contention this early into the season. That puts the Cubs in an even better position to make some meaningful additions to their bullpen before other teams jump into the market as well.

In the American League alone, it looks like six teams are vying for five playoff spots, leaving nine teams that don’t have much hope in 2019. The National League is certainly more competitive, but there are still some very obvious weak links who would be happy to move any valuable relief assets that they have.

Overall, there are already 10 teams that are 10 or more games back from their division lead, and it’s not even June yet.

From the teams that can already be deemed as sellers at the deadline, there are some pretty attractive bullpen options. Ken Giles, Sean Doolittle, and Will Smith headline the options available, but there are plenty of others that would be an upgrade on the Cubs current situation.

Next. 3 potential trades with the Washington Nationals. dark

It may seem early for a contender to start looking to shake up their roster, but all signs point to right now being the best time for the Cubs to start seeking out bullpen reinforcements.