Next up in my series looking at the positional depth and talent for the Cubs is their relief pitching.
Although the Cubs as a team had a respectable relief ERA of 4.11, the team had two pitchers finish in the top 10 in the NL in blown saves: Kevin Gregg (7) and Aaron Heilman (6). The good news is that neither pitcher is expected to return in 2010. The bad news is that Carlos Marmol, who finished with 4 blown saves, is expected to be the closer in 2010.
Here's a look at how the bullpen appears to be shaping up for 2010.
Closer - Carlos Marmol (signed through 2012) - Marmol was expected to be the Cubs closer for all of 2009, but the Cubs went out and acquired veteran Kevin Gregg as "insurance". Lou Piniella then ended up handing the closer job to Gregg in spring training and the rest is history. Now, with Gregg leaving and Marmol apparently in line for the closer role again, there are rumors that the Cubs are interested in Takashi Saito. Sounds like Piniella still isn't convinced that Marmol is the man for the job and considering Marmol's control problems this year, who can blame him. However, until the Cubs actually go out and sign a veteran to "backup" Marmol, he is penciled in as the Cubs closer for 2010.
RH Setup - Angel Guzman (signed through 2012) - Guzman had a good year for the Cubs in 2009, posting a 2.95 ERA and a 1.05 whip. He was second to Marmol in holds with 15 (Marmol had 27) and should continue to fill the righthanded setup role for the Cubs. If the Cubs do not pick up a veteran reliever, Guzman could be first in line should Marmol fail in the closer role.
LH Setup - John Grabow (signed through 2011) - Grabow was recently signed by Hendry to a 2 year $7.5 million contract and is expected to serve as the lefthanded setup man to Marmol. There has even been talk of Grabow becoming the closer should Marmol fail. However, Grabow is not a dominant type of reliever and I cannot see him closing games. However, he can be a useful pitcher for the Cubs in 2010.
Long Relief/Spot Starters/Lefty specialists - Tom Gorzelanny (under team control through 2012) and Sean Marshall (under team control through 2011) - With Lou Piniella hoping that Jeff Samardzija wins the 5th starter job in spring training, its likely that Gorzelanny and Marshall will end up in the Cubs bullpen. I can see Piniella using Marshall more as a long reliever/spot starter than Gorzelanny. Gorzelanny has not proven that he can effectively get righthanders out, but he is effective against lefthanders, making him likely to fill the LOOGY role. So, if Samardzija does not succeed as the 5th starter, look for Marshall to fill in for him (at least until one of the Cubs up-and-coming prospects is ready).
Middle Relievers - David Patton, Esmailin Caridad, Justin Berg, John Gaub, Blake Parker, Jeff Stevens and Rafael Dolis - with 5 relief spots being taken up by Marmol, Guzman, Grabow, Gorzelanny and Marshall, the Cubs will fill in the remaining two spots with a couple rookies. None of the pitchers listed above have thrown more than 30 innings in the majors, however Caridad and Berg had some success late in the season. As the Cubs already have 3 lefthanders in the pen, its likely that Piniella will fill the remaining two spots with righthanders, making Caridad and Berg the likely choices. However, as often happens, the Cubs will probably shuttle the others back and forth from AAA Iowa as the need arises.
2011 and beyond
None of the pitchers listed above will be free agents after 2010, so the 2011 bullpen could look the same as 2010. There has been some talk that Cubs prospect Andrew Cashner is better suited for the bullpen as he has yet to develop a third pitch to go with his fastball/slider combo. If so, Cashner has the stuff to become a late-inning reliever for the Cubs, possibly as early as 2011. However, the Cubs are going to keep him as a starter until he shows he cannot handle the role.
After 2011, the Cubs could lose lefties Grabow and Marshall, but they have a good lefty relief prospect in Gaub who can fill in and could potentially fill the setup role vacated by Grabow.
So, here are my projected bullpens for the Cubs:
2010 - Marmol (CL), Grabow (SU), Guzman (SU), Gorzelanny (LOOGY), Marshall (LR), Caridad (MR) and Berg (MR).
2011 - Marmol (CL), Grabow (SU), Guzman (SU), Gorzelanny (LOOGY), Mashall (LR), Caridad (MR) and Berg (MR).
2012 - Marmol (CL), Guzman (SU), Gaub (SU), Gorzelanny (LOOGY), Cashner (LR), Caridad (MR) and Berg (MR).
Next up: I will take a look at the Cubs infield on Tuesday.