Cubs Need Bullpen Additions, Lefty Relief Market Gaining Steam

The bullpen is among many needs the Cubs have to address this offseason, and they should really be looking to add a southpaw or two. As of this point, their only move has been to sign lefty Edwin Escobar to a minor-league deal after he spent several years in Japan. They also chose to non-tender Brandon Hughes, who had been their only left-handed reliever when he was healthy. If Jed Hoyer would like to make upgrades to the arm barn, he’d better get to it before all the horses are out.

Former Cub and residual fan-favorite failed starter Andrew Chafin has re-signed with the Tigers for one year at $4.25 million and the the Royals were part of Sunday’s second-biggest Will Smith reunion. The $5 million deal to bring Smith back to KC paled in comparison to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince closing down “A Grammy Salute to 50 Years of Hip Hop” on CBS, but it’s notable nonetheless.

Josh Hader remains the biggest relief target of any handedness and the Cubs have been connected to him circumstantially due to their needs and their new manager. Then there’s 28-year-old Yuki Matsui, a Japanese pitcher who’s flying under the radar in large part due to the more hyped pursuits of Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Shota Imanaga. The Cubs have scouted Matsui, who slots behind Hader in the lefty reliever hierarchy and should cost markedly less.

Matsui is also a full free agent, so the team that signs him will not be subject to a posting fee. He was NPB’s saves leader in each of the last two seasons, logging 39 of them with a 1.57 ERA in 2023. He became the youngest player in NPB history to earn 200 saves when he reached that mark in April and he finished with 236 for his career. The combination of a mid-90s fastball that tops out around 96 mph, a power splitter around 86-88 mph, and a sharp slider should translate well to MLB.

Outside of two huge deals, the biggest of which eclipsed the entire baseball world through the weekend, this has been an incredibly slow offseason even by modern standards. The Winter Meetings haven’t lived up to their former hype in several years, but the 2023 summit was considered sluggish and disappointing even by those on the inside. Now there’s a sense that things will pick up soon to fill the vacuum, which is good news for all of us poking the Cubs to see if they’re still alive.

Or maybe it’s not good news when talking about a front office that at times appears to move too methodically for its own good. I don’t want to foment any unrest regarding the Cubs’ willingness and ability to get splashy over the next few weeks, but I totally understand the desire to see the team do something. Anything. And then to do something while we’re waiting.

But hey, maybe Hoyer will surprise us all by rattling off a series of moves to round out the roster and give us a little excitement. A boy can dream.

Ed. note: I didn’t overlook Drew Smyly as part of last year’s bullpen, he just wasn’t included because that was more a matter of necessity after it became evident the Cubs couldn’t start him any longer. That could change depending on what they do this winter, though he seems like a better fit in the ‘pen even after those big salary bumps I tweeted about exhaustively.

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