The Cubs turned to a youth movement in the second half of the 2021 season, and one area where that was seen on a daily basis was in the bullpen. After the trade of veteran relievers Andrew Chafin, Ryan Tepera and Craig Kimbrel, the Cubs’ relief corps was young and inexperienced. Several relievers made a name for themselves when put in big spots, such as right-hander Codi Heuer, but there’s room for some veterans.
The Cubs are likely to be active in free agency after the lockout, and while they’re expected to make a push for shortstops, there is an opportunity in the reliever market.
“I don’t think you can have a bullpen that is entirely young guys,” president Jed Hoyer said. “For that reason, I think you need some guys that can help them through it as mentors down there. There’s an art to building the bullpen as far as how you get ready, your mentality going into the game, how you approach it. . . . You don’t have all veterans, but I think having some veterans to help young guys is really important.
“I love power pitching. I love our pitching. . . . I think there’s no doubt, as we’ve talked about that. We want to diversify our arm angles and pitch mixes and stuff like that. And certainly in the bullpen, that’ll be something we’ll focus on.”
Here are a few names that could make an impact for the Cubs next season:
The eccentric and interesting Chafin was a fan favorite in his brief time with the Cubs. But the left-hander wasn’t just a calming presence off the mound. He was on it, as well.
Chafin became a staple in David Ross’ bullpen over the last two seasons. When there was an important out to get in the game, it was Chafin who was always the first guy up.
In his two seasons with the Cubs, Chafin had a 2.13 ERA in 47 games and would bring that calm back to the bullpen.
There was a time when Bradley was one of the more coveted right-handed relievers, when he switched to bullpen duty full-time with the Diamondbacks. But after pitching for the Reds and the Phillies over the last two seasons, he’s looking for a bit of a resurgence. Still featuring a plus-plus fastball, Bradley would be a great candidate to benefit from a change of scenery.
Bradley was 7-3 with a 3.71 ERA in 53 games for the Phillies last season. If he has the right pieces around him, there’s no reason he can’t be a high-leverage option for the Cubs next season.
Hand is another candidate for a change of scenery. After several years of being one of the best in the majors, the left-hander was busy last season pitching for the Nationals,
Blue Jays and Mets after being claimed off waivers.
The three-time All-Star showed with the Mets that he still is capable of getting outs, though he might not be the lockdown option in the back of a bullpen.
The Cubs, who have just one left-handed reliever on their 40-man roster, need to add another southpaw. It’s also feasible for them to look to add two left-handed arms in the bullpen to fill that void.