Been doing a lot of reading on relievers lately, because that’s basically all that’s out there in the free agent market (don’t look at the starters on the market. Your lunch will come back up). Also, if you haven’t checked it out, read Jayson Stark’s piece about how the postseason could have changed baseball both on and off the field forever. He’s pretty good at this whole writing thing.
I’d like to believe we could see the game, or at least the bullpen usage part of it, shift forever in the wake of Andrew Miller. Somehow, I doubt it. Even if every reliever were open to being flexible in their usage (highly unlikely), even if agents and GMs could agree that they’re not going to negotiate on the terms of saves and such (again, everyone’s trying to squeeze a buck), I’m not sure it’s possible now. The guys who aren’t failed starters have been brought up to throw one inning at a time throughout their professional careers. And those who are converted starters have spent a couple years doing it this way as well. I just don’t know it’s that easy of a change for a regular season.
Let’s take Carl Edwards Jr., for example.
Up until the 2015 season, Edwards was a starter in the Rangers’ and Cubs’ systems. He made 49 starts total in the minors, before injury problems kind of curtailed that whole thing in 2014, limiting him to just 10 starts. The Cubs moved him to the pen in 2015 where he shot up through the ranks and landed at Wrigley. In the minors last year he got looks for more than an inning, throwing 23.2 innings in 13 appearances at Double-A and 31.2 innings in 23 appearances in Iowa. But last year he was restricted to the same number of innings as appearances in both Iowa and on Clark St.
Can he go back to throwing multiple innings twice a week instead of one three or four times a week? You can’t say for sure.
Wondering how the Cubs might construct a pen next year, I get confused on what Joe Maddon might want to do. I know how Theo and Jed see it when out of the office and over a couple years, because their first year in charge in Boston they were the first to try and go closer-less, and it was something of a massive disaster. It forced them to sign Keith Foulke the next winter. But the Cubs pen now should be of higher quality than that Sox pen then.
Right now, there’s Edwards, Rondon, Strop, Grimm, and Scrabble II for sure (at least I’m fairly sure on the last one here). That’s five trustable arms, and you’d probably like a sixth. BP Wrigleyville had a feature on Mark Melancon today, and he’s intriguing for one big reason, at least to me. That’s he’s not platoon-dependent. He’s actually more effective against lefties than righties. That’s generally been the case with Grimm as well. Rondon has had some issues with lefties. Edwards was also more effective against lefties than righties. Strop was not.
So a signing of Melancon, with no other major additions, would give Maddon three righties that he could toss out against anyone, assuming there’s some improvement from Grimm, who I am still a big fan of (and would actually not mind him getting a shot at the rotation but we’ve been through that). In a perfect world, Maddon would probably like to toss out Edwards, Melancon, and Grimm in whatever order he feels like, with Strop and Rondon more the fire-men. That’s if they wanted to go closer-less, which I would be all for. As we saw with Rondon last year, having a strict closer can lead to a lack of appearances and then a lack of sharpness, which was something of an issue with him last year. Sadly, Rondon and Strop can’t be used just whenever, as any big left-handed bat in a key situation you’d kind of like to avoid. Though neither were exactly killed by lefties last year, as Strop had a .283 wOBA against him from lefties and Rondon a .317. The year before that was .280 for Rondon. Overall, he’s effective against everyone.
If the Cubs went into Mesa and just told everyone you’re going to be used at any time given the availability and situation, a signing like Melancon could give them the opportunity to really try it out. I’m sort of hoping they do, but it doesn’t even have to be someone as expensive as Melancon might be. Just someone who gets everyone out.
Let me put it this way, in games next season that the Cubs are up 4-2 in the 7th, and there’s a runner on facing the middle of the order, I want whoever is throwing best out there. I think Maddon and Co. would like that as well. If it’s the Rondon we saw early in ’16, that’s great. If it’s the fully developed drone-strike that Edwards promises to be, that’s cool too.
It’s nice to have options.