NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The Cubs got the big-time closer they targeted in Wade Davis, but Wednesday’s trade with the Royals doesn’t come close to finishing their off-season bullpen plans.
“We’re going to try to build up a ton of depth,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We’re going to try to build up a really talented, deep bullpen with a lot of different options that we can use in close games.”
Epstein said the Cubs expect to carry an eight-man bullpen this year to accommodate the kind of depth he wants to create as the Cubs embark on what they expect to be a third consecutive seven-month season.
Davis fills the top need. And the Cubs started to address their other specific bullpen need with last week’s signing of left-hander Brian Duensing (one year, $2 million).
“But we’re still out there looking for pitching, and if we find some it’ll probably on a shorter-term deal,” said Epstein, adding the ideal addition would be another left-hander.
General manager Jed Hoyer said the team is staying in communication with free agent left Travis Wood, “a guy we really loved having,” but that avenue seemed anything but certain.
Free agent lefties of interest also include the Mets’ Jerry Blevins.
And the Cubs have been involved with Davis’ predecessor as Royals closer, Greg Holland, since early in the off-season. A significant piece of the Royals’ dominant bullpen during back-to-back World Series appearances, the right-handed Holland is expected to be at full strength by spring training after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He conducted showcase for teams early last month.
The Cubs might also select a bullpen arm in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft if a specific pitcher or two they like is available with the 30th pick.
The Cubs also return hard-throwing young right-hander Carl Edwards Jr. And team officials, including Epstein on Wednesday, have said all week the three power right-handers who are back after injuries last summer are all healthy: Hector Rondon (triceps), Pedro Strop (knee, groin) and Justin Grimm (shoulder).
Kicking Rondon back to setup role
Rondon, the Cubs’ closer from 2014 until the Cubs replaced him in the role after acquiring Aroldis Chapman last summer, just got demoted again Wednesday without throwing a pitch.
Manager Joe Maddon called him to explain the reasons behind the decision and how he expected to use Rondon: as a primary setup man and occasional backup closer.
“He understands Wade being there,” Maddon said. “He was great. I told him how much I respect him. And he’s all about the team. It’s just one of those things.”
Epstein said he doesn’t expect it to be an issue.
“Look, it’s been Aroldis chapman and Wade Davis,” Epstein said. “There’s fewer than 10 people maybe on the planet that you would move Rondon out of the closer’s role for, in my opinion. Those happen to be two of them.
“And we’re just fortunate to have those guys, and he understands that, and he can really impact the team in a setup role.”
Notes: The Cubs still hope to add depth to their rotation, preferably in the form of a player who could start at AAA Iowa if necessary. For now, Epstein identifies four rotation depth guys behind projected fifth starter Mike Montgomery: left-hander Rob Zastryzny and right-handers Jake Buchanan, Aaron Brooks and Seth Frankoff (signed as a minor-league free agent). … As he undergoes an off-season reset on his mechanics and hitting approach, right-fielder Jason Heyward is working this season with former Giants MVP and Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds.