Cubs bullpen rounding into shape for 2024 season
David Banks - USA Today Sports

Cubs bullpen rounding into shape for 2024 season

by - Staff Writer -

As the offseason has progressed for Chicago, it has been relatively quiet. The Cubs did ink top Japanese pitcher Shota Imanaga to a contract and acquired top-100 prospect Michael Busch via trade with the Dodgers.

That trade with LA also earned reliever Yency Almonte into a large mix of potential contributors to the Cubs bullpen. The pool of pitchers grew larger this week as the Cubs signed World Champion Carl Edwards Jr. to a minor league contract and veteran Hector Neris to a one-year deal worth $9 million.

Neris has been a model of consistency in Philadelphia and Houston over the course of his career. In eight years with the Phillies, Neris boasted a 3.42 ERA and struck out over a batter per inning. In the later years of his career, he emerged even stronger out of the bullpen for the Astros. In fact, Neris has a 1.71 ERA in 71 innings of action for Houston this past season.

Neris certainly figures to slot near the back end of the Cubs bullpen, where you can pencil in Adbert Alzolay as well. Alzolay emerged as a back-end FORCE in 2023, thanks to his 2.67 ERA and 22 saves in his first full season as a reliever.

Based solely upon the consistency that both Julian Merryweather (3.38 ERA in 69 games) and Mark Leiter Jr. (3.50 ERA in 69 games) displayed all season long, you can figure they will be mainstays out of the pen for Craig Counsell, just as they were for Ross.

On the Cub's 26-man roster, they will likely carry 12-14 pitchers. Five of those, of course, are starters and will feature the likes of Justin Steele, Kyle Hendricks, Shota Imanaga, Jameson Taillon, and likely Jordan Wicks.

If you take those five players and add on the four well-known members of the bullpen, that gives you nine of your 12/14 arms.

The final five(ish) pitchers will come from a pool of depth that includes Almote, Edwards Jr., Drew Smyly, Javier Assad, Luke Little, Hayden Wesneski, Daniel Palencia, Keegan Thompson, Jose Cuas and Michael Rucker.

Not to mention, many experts predict both Cubs' top pitching prospects, Ben Brown and Cade Horton, will be ready to contribute at the big league level at some point in the 2024 season.

The point is, the Cubs seemed to have realized that having more pitchers that could eat up innings if a starter were to go down, as well as more pitchers that you can trust in high-leverage situations, is not only a luxury but the kind of thing that prevents late season collapses and assures playoff appearances: depth.

It would be shocking to see Assad and Smyly start the season in the minor leagues. Assad emerged as every manager’s best friend: a Swiss Army knife type of pitcher who can start, relieve, or close and be just as effective. Smyly is a long-tenured vet who appeared to carve a nice role for himself in the bullpen.

As for Wesneski, Palencia, Almote, Edwards Jr., Little, Cuas, Rucker, and Thompson, there is a lot of emphasis on competition and role emergence in Spring Training. This, of course, all goes without saying that if the Cubs sign an additional starter or reliever that depth becomes an even larger strength for the infrastructure of the team.

Little and Cuas gained some trust late in the 2023 season, Edwards Jr. and Almote come from other organizations where they have had success over the years and players like Wesneski and Thompson have plenty of potential that Counsell has seemed to recognize thus far.

All of these players will serve some kind of role. Whether it be a sixth starter, long reliever, spot starter, bullpen fill-in, or a long-term role based upon injuries, trades, or ineffectiveness. No matter how you look at it, the depth is a positive — something the Cubs have not had to be proud of as of late.

Comment on this story
Send Feedback to Anthony Pasquale: Email | Comment
Post your comments!