Quick Look at 7 Possible Trade Targets as Cubs Seek Bullpen Upgrade

The Cubs have gotten off to a terrific start so far in 2019. Both the offense and the starting pitching have been all Theo Epstein and the front office could have hoped for. If there has been a weak link in the chain for Chicago, it would be the bullpen.

Brandon Morrow has been out since last July with an elbow injury and Pedro Strop, the interim closer and the Cubs’ most reliable reliever over the past few seasons, has seen his playing time limited by hamstring issues. The remaining hodge-podge of relievers have done a decent job, but they once again lead the league in walk rate (5.4 BB/9) and don’t generate a ton of whiffs.

Morrow won’t be back until the second half, if at all, so a bullpen upgrade will be necessary if the Cubs want to be a real postseason factor. Reports emerged this weekend that the Cubs have inquired about the availability of Blue Jays closer Ken Giles, who actually has better numbers than another possible trade target, the Nationals’ Sean Doolittle.

Though it wasn’t indicative of anything more than Joe Maddon looking out for his team, and Carl Edwards Jr. in particular, the Cubs caused a kerfuffle Saturday night by protesting Doolittle’s delivery. The bearded, bespectacled hurler was tapping his front foot prior to striding home, the same thing the Cubs were told was illegal about Edwards’ move.

Since my Cubs Insider colleague Laura Messer already touched on Giles and Doolittle in the piece above, I thought I would examine a few more potential trade options. My focus will be on relievers from rebuilding teams, or teams that may still be a year or two away from from a playoff push. Chicago has a surplus of young position players, especially infielders, that could make a move possible.

A frequently mentioned candidate is the Giants’ Will Smith, a big lefty who was traded from the Brewers to San Francisco in 2016 to be an impact reliever. Injuries derailed that plan in 2017, but he returned healthy last year and is pitching well for a bad Giants team in 2019. He has a 2.70 ERA while saving 11 games and, most importantly, has 20 strikeouts to just four walks in 16.2 innings.

Michael Lorenzen and David Hernández are two options from the Reds. Lorenzen has been very good so far this season with a 1.59 ERA in 22.1 innings. He’s also good with the bat and could be a pinch hitter when needed. Hernández was outstanding last season, posting a 2.53 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 64 innings. His ERA is up a bit this year, but so is his K-rate at 28%, plus he is seven years older than his teammate and his price would be much lower prospect-wise than Lorenzen’s.

A pair of Padres, Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen, are also intriguing. Yates leads the league with 17 saves and has 38 punchouts in just 21 innings of work. Stammen has a solid 3.09 ERA and has walked only two hitters in 23.1 frames. As of now, San Diego is still on the fringes of the playoff race. If they do fall out of contention, both relievers could be available for trades.

There are still two months before the trade deadline, so more targets will emerge as the standings shake out. I would be quite surprised if the Cubs don’t add at least one more arm to the bullpen, so keep these names in mind as July 31 approaches. The right move might be the last piece of the playoff puzzle for Chicago.

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