Michael Bowden, Alex Burnett, Shawn Camp, Rafael Dolis, Kyuji Fujikawa, Kevin Gregg, Matt Guerrier, Kameron Loe, Carlos Marmol, Blake Parker, Zach Putnam, Brooks Raley, Henry Rodriguez, Hector Rondon, James Russell, Eduardo Sanchez, Pedro Strop, Hisanori Takahashi, and Carlos Villanueva.
That is the list of everybody who’s appeared in a game for the Cubs out of the bullpen thus far. And that pen has been much maligned. For a lot of reasons. The 24 blown saves advance that perception, even though many of those “saves” were blown in the 7th and 8th innings, and not the 9th. In all actuality, the 9th inning hasn’t gone all that bad for the Cubs. When the Cubs get to the 9th inning with a lead, they are 45-4. For comparison sake, they are 1-58 when they enter the 9th trailing. And overall, the bullpen has been much better of late. Since the additions of Strop, Guerrier, and Parker, the pen has been solid, and it has not regressed since Guerrier was lost. With Russell, Parker, and Strop, the Cubs finally have a bridge to Kevin Gregg in the 9th, who has gotten the job done in spite of how interesting it may be.
Looking forward, the Cubs figure to have James Russell, Blake Parker, Pedro Strop, and Carlos Villanueva back in the bullpen next season. Villanueva may be in the rotation for periods, but it seems like he is best suited to be in the pen, and fill in as a spot starter. That leaves three openings for next season’s bullpen. Matt Guerrier may be invited back after rehabbing from forearm surgery. The Cubs also have some players who can fit nicely into relief roles in the system already. Brian Schlitter has been dominant at AAA Iowa this season, racking up 17 saves without blowing one. And Arodys Vizcaino should be back from his elbow issues the last couple of years. The plan is, tentatively, to send him to play in fall and/ or winter leagues, to get him back on the mound, which would serve him well in rehabbing this off-season. And he may end up as a starter at some point, but a cautious approach with him, and letting him get innings in a bullpen role would be a way to bring him back at the major league level without running up 150-175 innings in his first year back. Filling the last slot with Hector Rondon, who has a good arm and a year of experience could make the Cubs pen much better, assuming everyone stays healthy and pitches similarly to how they are now.
Projected 2014 Opening Day Bullpen (assuming no outside moves are made):
While this exercise is highly speculative, the point is simple: the Cubs have the arms to improve the bullpen within the organization. And every one of the players in my projection has been in the major leagues, including Schlitter, who appeared in seven games all the way back in 2010. They have some depth, too. If the Cubs can figure out what is wrong with Henry Rodriguez and get him to throw strikes, he’s a viable option. Matt Guerrier has already expressed interest in returning on a minor league deal, and at this point, there is no harm in that. Eduardo Sanchez was a once promising reliever with the Cardinals, and is young enough to recapture his form. Kyuji Fujikawa will return at some point next season from Tommy John Surgery. And most importantly, maybe, Carlos Marmol, who couldn’t finish games at the end of his Cubs’ career, and Shawn Camp, who got beat up a lot this season will not be returning.
The pen is already better right now than it was for most of the summer. And there is talent in the organization to improve it further next season. With any offense at all, the Cubs might actually flirt with a winning season, which would be a positive step in the rebuilding effort.
It was tough for to watch. I worked all day, saw none of the game, and got back just in time to turn on the game during the middle of the ninth. Perfect timing for a classic “Marmol Meltdown.”
The conversation turned heated. There were tweets of death threats to Marmol, threats of violence towards him. Which is inexcusable and despicable in every sense of the word. There is no reason for that kind of nonsense. Even if it’s Game 7 of the World Series. If that was you, you should be ashamed. And have a serious reevaluation of your life’s priorities.
As far as Dale Sveum is concerned, he didn’t have many other options. Kevin Gregg was not available after pitching four straight days. Carlos Villanueva was a trendy “WHY THE HELL COULDN’T HE PITCH?!” option. His ninth inning numbers are horrible, though. He has a career 5.23 ERA in the ninth, and in save situations, he has an 0-7 record, with a 4.32 ERA and six saves. None coming since 2010. That doesn’t do much to inspire me to run him out there if I’m Dale. Shawn Camp was just activated off of the DL, and has not pitched in majors since May 21. We all remember that night pretty clearly *Cough Grand Slam Cough* Henry Rodriguez’s reputation is for wildness. Blake Parker has pitched well in a closer’s role in Iowa, but not in the majors. James Russell had pitched the 8th. And that’s everyone out there.
It is awful to lose a game like that one. The Cubs have lost worse, though. They’ll lose worse in the future. That’s the nature of sports. Every thrilling comeback is paired with a heart-breaking defeat. I can’t blame Dale Sveum for going to Marmol, though. While I am not sure I buy the Cubs trying to build trade value because at this point, I think it is obvious what he is, I am buying that the Cubs were trying to help themselves by running Marmol out and trying to get him a save. Kevin Gregg can’t pitch every day. They need someone else to be able to close games. Marmol is the most logical choice. He had been pitching much better.
Carlos Marmol is not the closer of the future. He isn’t even the closer of the future of this season. Kevin Gregg is the closer, for now. He could be traded to someone looking for a closer. At that point, Marmol is again in the running to be the closer, by mere default. Sure, James Russell could be given a shot. But Marmol’s history gives him a chance, no matter what. And he deserves a crack at it.
There is no guarentee that yesterday is the last blown save for Marmol this season. He may be thrust into that role yet again. And we should be prepared for the worst. But no matter the result of future games, it is the right thing for this season to keep using Marmol in high leverage situations. There is nothing to lose but some meaningless games.