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Success with under-the-radar bullpen moves gives Cubs confidence with latest acquisitions

Rowan Wick and Brad Wieck were under-the-radar moves that helped bolster the Cubs’ bullpen the last two seasons.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In the last two seasons, the Cubs’ bullpen has featured familiar names such as Craig Kimbrel, Jeremy Jeffress, Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler and Mike Montgomery.

But one of the secrets to the Cubs’ relief success has been their ability to find unsung guys to fill in the gaps.

Two of their biggest success stories have been right-hander Rowan Wick and left-hander Brad Wieck.

The Cubs acquired Wick from the Padres on Nov. 20, 2018, and Wieck came over from the Padres at the 2019 trade deadline.

Both have gotten big outs for the Cubs the last two seasons, but neither acquisition made a lot of noise at the time, and as the Cubs assemble their bullpen for 2021, they’re looking for more of the same.

The Cubs selected right-hander Gray Fenter in the Rule 5 draft Thursday and picked up right-hander Robert Stock off waivers from the Red Sox on Dec. 2.

Fenter, who’s 16-9 with a 3.21 ERA in five minor-league seasons, has made 49 starts and could figure in the team’s starting-pitching depth.

Stock was 0-1 with a 4.73 ERA with the Red Sox last season but has had some success at the major-league level with a 2.50 ERA in 32 appearances in 2018.

But their records aren’t that relevant. It’s all about certain traits — things that jump off the page — that have caught scouts’ eyes. Teams will zero in on an intriguing facet and try to build off that. That’s what the Cubs have done recently, and they’re hoping their strong track record continues.

“I think [with] a lot of the guys that you end up claiming on waivers, there’s normally a couple of things that you see that you want to tweak,” team president Jed Hoyer said. “And I’m not naive to think that when one of our guys is claimed on waivers, I’m sure people have the same thoughts.

“Obviously, [Stock] has a great arm. I think that helps the margin of error. When you throw that hard, there’s definitely some ideas we have on things we can work with him on and get him back to a place where he’s pitching really well.”

The ability to find arms from seemingly nowhere is a big help when the budget gets tight. Kimbrel was a big-money signing, but similar moves aren’t imminent, so finding hidden gems can be beneficial in more ways than one.

“I think we’ve done a good job over the last couple of years of being able to take some guys with some ideas of changes that we wanted to go after,” Hoyer said. ‘‘I think that’s part of the process, and any team goes through that, and we do, as well. You try to identify different areas that you can focus on.

“We feel very comfortable being able to do that. We’re not going to succeed all the time. There will be guys that we try to give a certain pitch or make a certain change that doesn’t work, and we know that. But we feel like we have the infrastructure in place to be able to try it, and we’ve had some success in some areas that give us more confidence.”