The bullpen has performed exceptionally well for the Chicago Cubs this season, and their overall totals sit right at the top of the National League. As a unit they have a 3.09 ERA (second in NL), a .218 batting average against (best in NL), and a .647 OPS allowed (best in NL). That performance has been boosted by consistently strong performances out of offseason acquisitions Steve Cishek (1.88 ERA, 1.02 WHIP in 43 innings) and Brandon Morrow (1.47 ERA, 3.44 K/BB rate in 30 2/3 IP), who have been the best regular relievers for the team thus far. It also helps that they have gotten strong performances out of players called up from the minor leagues including Randy Rosario (1.95 ERA in 27 2/3 IP), Justin Hancock (1.46 ERA in 12 1/3 IP), and Anthony Bass (0.63 ERA in 14 1/3 IP).
Though their relief corp has been one of the strongest parts of this year’s team, there is no reason why they can’t add even more firepower to their bullpen arsenal.
Bruce Levine (of 670 The Score) recently noted that the Cubs have a pair of left-handed relievers they are targeting in the trade market, and both of them have been heavily linked to the team over the last year and a half.
The first of those relievers is San Diego Padres closer Brad Hand. He broke out for the team in 2016 when he was put into the bullpen on a full-time basis, and proved that it was no fluke with a 2.16 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 11.8 K/9 rate over 79 1/3 innings of work last season. Over the offseason he was believed to be discussed when the Padres asked about a potential trade for All-Star second baseman Javier Baez, but the teams obviously never came to terms on a deal.
Hand, who also made the NL All-Star team this year, has put up more solid numbers in 2018 with a 3.05 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and a very strong 13.2 K/9. His consistent dominance over the last 2 1/2 seasons makes him a very attractive target for teams (with the New York Yankees being one of them), but the Padres are reportedly asking for a big haul in return for the southpaw and that could make an agreement hard to reach.
The other lefty in Levine’s report is Zach Britton of the Baltimore Orioles. He has been solid for the most part since returning from injury, even though the overall totals don’t necessarily reflect that. In his 15 appearances (spanning 14 2/3 innings) he has posted a 3.68 ERA (with a 4.30 FIP), 1.36 WHIP, and a 8.0 K/9 rate. While the ERA doesn’t look as good as what several Cubs relievers are putting up, keep in mind that 13 of his 15 appearances have been scoreless outings. He allowed four earned runs against the Atlanta Braves on June 22, and two more on June 27 against the Seattle Mariners.
Britton appears to be a popular trade target this year, as the Cubs are one of eight teams reportedly interested in the lefty. Other interested teams include the Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, and Philadelphia Phillies, though I’m sure most teams would be considering a potential deal for him.
Hand is signed through the 2020 season and has a team option for 2021 worth $10 million, which means that if the Cubs were to trade for him they would have a solid core of relievers signed through at least the end of next season (including Morrow, Cishek, Pedro Strop, and Carl Edwards). Britton, on the other hand, will become a free agent at the end of the year. That makes him a very expensive rental piece, but the Cubs have shown no issue in that scenario as they traded a large group of prospects (including infielder Gleyber Torres) to the Yankees for closer Aroldis Chapman for their championship run in 2016.
Both relievers were targets for the Cubs last year as well, but they instead traded for Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila from the Detroit Tigers. After a challenging half-season following that trade, Wilson has pitched very well this year owning a 2.77 ERA, 6.2 H/9, and a 12.9 K/9 rate over 39 innings pitched.
Acquiring one of these relievers would significantly solidify an already strong group of relievers, and be a big boost in the team’s push to the postseason for this year. No word has been shared as to which players may be sacrificed in either case, but there is a good chance that one of the team’s young, controllable position players (like Ian Happ or Addison Russell) would be involved.
We still have just over two weeks until we hit this year’s trading deadline, and there appear to be a lot of options on the table across the league. Stay tuned here to see all the latest news, rumors, and notes as we approach July 31.
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