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Managing a bullpen can't be this hard, Bob Feller's fastball could out run a motorcycle and the Major League podcast
For the Cubs, most of the roster is pretty well set. Austin Romine’s knee sprain has the Cubs starting to consider backup catcher options to start the season. PJ Higgins is an intriguing possibility as he has a career minor league slash of: .272/.357/.367 in five seasons. I put intriguing in italics because I don’t mean it. He’s Taylor Davis without the weird staring at the camera thing. He’s also not on the 40-man roster, which would necessitate another personnel move and honestly, he’s just not worth it. How big of a deal is a knee sprain for a catcher, anyway? I mean, if Josh Phegley taught us nothing last year (other than the fact that when you hire a life-long third catcher for a manager he’s going to want to always keep a useless third catcher on his roster), Josh taught us that squatting is really optional for big league catchers.
With Joc Pederson hitting approximately .997 this spring (it’s actually .545) he sure looks ready to be the full-time, no platoon needed, left fielder, so maybe they can get away with just one extra outfielder.
I should have put that in italics, too. I’m glad Joc has looked good in the spring, but remember when Scott Moore would hit .480 in the spring and then the real games would start and he’d turn into...Scott Moore?
This all boils down to how many bullpen guys they decide to keep.
Signs are that the Cubs, like several teams, are planning on a nine man bullpen this season.
I’m going to have to consult the Levels of Asinine Chart©.
Asinine - The decision makes little sense, but there’s likely an underlying reason why you are forced into doing something asinine. For instance, you gave Daniel Descalso a two-year contract with an option, so you’re going to have to waste some at bats on him during his first season hoping to hell that you didn’t make a terrible mistake, even though, you’re already pretty certain you did.
Completely Asinine - The decision makes little sense, and a more sensible alternative seems to be readily available. For example, you give Albert Almora 64 starts as a leadoff hitter, even though his career on base average in that spot is .323. Your easy alternative is to just not lead him off and bat literally anybody else there, even that day’s starting pitcher.
Completely Fucking Asinine - The decision makes no sense, a more sensible alternative is clearly available and it’s clear you are making the decision to guard against a highly unlikely worst-case scenario that even if it happened could be adequately rectified in short order. Your example: clogging your 26-man roster with 14 pitchers, including an unwieldy nine man bullpen. This means you can only field a four player bench even though your lineup really needs you to have platoon options in your corner outfield spots and at second base.
I get the arguments as to why pitchers will need to be eased into the season more than in the past and I understand the concerns that they’re going from a weird, short season where pitchers only had a fraction of their regular workloads and nobody’s sure how that will impact pitchers trying to go back to pitching many more innings in 2021.
The Cubs were at a disadvantage two years ago when their opening day bullpen had literally nobody in it who still had any minor league options. They couldn’t do the thing the Brewers and Dodgers did to maximum effect in recent seasons, where the back of their bullpen was shuttling back and forth from the minors (and when the Kerry Wood-Mark Prior Memorial Injured List™ minimum stay was shortened to 10 days, some of their pitchers started suffering these weird, vague, short term injuries…hmmm—the IL for pitchers is supposed to return to 15 days, but like last year, Covid guidelines have kept it at 10. So, exploit away.)
The Cubs bullpen this year will feature some guys with options. Jason Adam, Rowan Wick, Brad Wieck and Adbert Alzolay (maybe for Adbert, we’re still waiting for MLB to decide whether options used last year actually count) have them, and other guys like Kyle Ryan, Kohl Stewart and Dan Winkler can be optioned but have enough service time that they have to agree to it or they can become free agents. Regardless, even if it was just the first four guys that gives you enough leeway to make a risk-free roster move if your bullpen starts to get pooped out from over use.
Besides, I though the beauty of having a rotation full of dependable finesse guys like Kyle Hendricks, Zach Davies, Alec Mills and Trevor Williams was that they’re pretty much always going to at least give you innings. Jake Arrieta 2.0 is probably prone to explode on the launch pad a few times this season, but it’s nothing we didn’t get used to with late-career Jon Lester.
One guy the Cubs appear to be afraid to lose is (I’ll pause here in a moment so you can finish laughing and not lose your place) Dillon Maples…
I know. Can you believe it? Maples doesn’t have any options left (and by that, I mean minor league options, options to try to learn to throw strikes, options we can turn to so our eyes don’t roll back in our heads when we hear that he’s warming up in the bullpen, etc.) Dillon either makes the team out of spring training or he goes through waivers and spends the next three years doing short stints with the Tigers, Pirates, Reds and Rangers. It’s his destiny. Why screw up your roster before letting him embrace it?
Yes, we’ve all seen how filthy his breaking stuff can be and how lively his fastball is. We’ve also all seen Cubs’ catchers spend half innings chasing those pitches to the backstop. So far this spring he hasn’t walked a batter in 4.1 IP. Yay! He has given up six hits and six runs, though. Oh.
Meanwhile, Rex Brothers is making a run at Cacti League Cy Young with five scoreless appearances. So basically, it’s too early to make these kinds of bullpen decisions. But it is not too early to insist they stop trying to normalize nine guys in a frickin’ bullpen.
Somebody check with Crane. They probably don’t even have nine bullpen chairs. You watch, Rowan Wick will finally come back from his intercostal injury only to slip a disc having to sit on an upside down Gatorade jug for six innings.
Speaking of Wick’s injury, did anybody else find this as creepy as I did?
Wick’s recovery would be nice, because Craig Kimbrel is treating his time in Arizona like he did the Cubs early season trip to Cincinnati last year.
I’m sure it’ll all be fine. That’s always been a fool-proof strategy for the Cubs. Just hope for a problem to fix itself and voila! It’s fixed.
Anyway, I now what you’re thinking. It would really suck to be one of those guys on the tail end of the bullpen being shuttled back and forth to Iowa all season long. Especially the first month when they won’t even be playing minor league games.
I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I think I have an understanding, sympathetic way to explain it to the guys who will be impacted by this:
You’re also thinking, “this is all well and good, but if the Cubs go with eight bullpen guys but then waste the extra bench spot on Eric Sogard, what’s the point?”
That’s a great question, and for a long time I was as anti-Sogard as anybody. He’s old, he can’t hit, I’m sure his Covid mask fogs up his glasses all the time, and keeping him just seems like a monumental waste of time and of a roster spot.
But, I think we are really discounting his intangibles.
Look at how well he can take a pitch. It’s majestic, really.
And, you know how with some great defensive players, it just feels like the ball finds them in key spots. Sogard goes one better:
You can’t teach that.
Movie Deep Dive - Major League
Is it possible to make a two hour and 40 minute podcast about a movie that’s only an hour and 40 minutes long?
You know, it turns out that it is possible.
In our third installment of Movie Deep Dives, Mike Pusateri and I girded up our loins and took the field of battle in analyzing the 1989 cinematic masterpiece Major League. If you don’t know the basic concept of these podcasts (and judging by the downloads, you don’t) we pick one of our favorite movies, watch it again and then talk about it, discussing the writer(s), the director, the cast, unearth some fun facts, play a lot of our favorite audio clips from the movie and generally have a damned good time. Listen to it someday, and you will, too.
In the podcast you will hear me tell a story about the time my dad and I met Cleveland Indians’ legend Bob Feller, which then segues into me telling Mike about the absurd way they “proved” Bob could throw 100 MPH before radar guns existed.
That story is going to sound to you like it’s absolute bullshit.
But it’s not. And here’s the proof.
One thing I didn’t remember is that Bob was wearing a suit! You can’t argue with science.