The Chicago Cubs reportedly re-signed reliever Brian Duensing to a 2-year, $7 million deal. The left-hander was a key part of the bullpen last year, posting a 2.74 ERA and set or tied career bests with his K/9 (8.8), H/9 (8.4), and K/BB (3.39 rates). Adding Duensing gives the Cubs another solid left-handed arm out of the pen, but that’s not all this signing gives them. Re-signing him is beneficial to the Cubs in multiple ways, both for this year and for the future.
This contract still allows the team to pursue a top starting pitcher on this year’s free agent market. The average annual value (AAV) of Duensing’s new contract comes out to $3.5 million per year, which is huge in keeping the team well below the competitive balance tax (also known as a luxury tax). Had they attempted to sign someone like former Cub Wade Davis, that signing would have required a much higher salary, and a considerably higher AAV. Had the Cubs re-signed Davis instead there is no way that they are still in play on guys like Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, or Alex Cobb, because they would be more concerned about leaving themselves enough wiggle room under that tax point in case they call any players up throughout the year or trade for someone mid-season. Signing Duensing to this contract allows them to remain well below the luxury tax mark and still have room to add another starting pitcher if they reach an agreement with any of the top free agents.
His low AAV also makes a minimal impact on their payroll for the 2019 season, giving them plenty of financial resources to go after one of the big names that may be hitting the free agent market next off-season. One of those potential free agents, Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, has some notable ties to the Cubs, and has reportedly said that he would want to play for the North siders. Again, if they had chosen to re-sign Davis instead, his higher AAV may not give the Cubs enough room in their payroll to go after a big time player like Harper, Manny Machado, or Clayton Kershaw next off-season. It is possible that all of those guys could sign deals to remain with their current teams, but there is no question that the potential size and quality of next year’s free agent class is affecting this year’s off-season.
Should the Cubs choose to grant Mike Montgomery his wish and put him into the starting rotation, that would allow Duensing to potentially slot into the “long reliever” role. When he first came into the league in 2009 the Minnesota Twins utilized him as a spot starter, and continued to do so over his first four big league seasons. And while he hasn’t started a game since 2012 he has still averaged just under a full inning pitched per appearance, meaning that teams have been using him as someone to give them a full inning of relief instead of being just a LOOGY. We can’t expect the Cubs to trot him out there for 4-5 innings if a starter gets blown up early, like they could with Montgomery, but he could easily be stretched out to 2 or 3 innings of work to help ease the strain that situation would have on the bullpen.
Putting Duensing back in the bullpen gives the Cubs a couple different options with the makeup of this year’s pitching staff. His lower contract value gives them the option to add another top starting pitcher this year or a big name next off-season, and the added depth he provides could give Montgomery a path to the fifth rotation spot. What the Cubs decide to do now is up in the air, but it will be nice to return a key member from last year’s bullpen to the team.
If you would like to receive an email each time a new Chicago Cubs article is published, fill out our email notification form.