In the final installment of the series, I will preview the Cubs relief pitching situation, an area with a ton of question marks on a team with a ton of question marks. Last season, this was a strong group despite an iffy ninth inning guy, but their will be a few new faces on the team this season.
There is a group of five players who seem locked in to the relief role on Opening Day. Carlos Marmol, James Russell, Shawn Camp, Hector Rondon, and newly acquired Kyuji Fujikawa are all locks to make the Cubs opening day bullpen. Marmol is expected to close, while Russell will be slotted in at the lefty setup guy and Fujikawa as the right-handed setup man. Camp will be the go-to middle reliever, which is still pretty impressive for a guy whose career looked close to over before Opening Day last season. Rondon, who was the Cubs Rule 5 draft selection, is likely to be featured in a mopup role, and will be used in a similar way as Lendy Castillo, who is now in the minor leagues. Rondon is unlikely to pitch in very many games for the Cubs this season, unless he shows signs that he is ready for the majors. These five guys definitely show some promise, with the setup man being the most solidified spot, while Marmol as closer is the biggest question mark, thanks to his constant ability to blow games. It is likely he is traded at the trade deadline or sooner.
With the two remaining spots, the Cubs are basing their selection off of who has the best spring training and potentially who has the best track record in the MLB. The favorite for one of the spots is Michael Bowden. Bowden pitched well at the end of last season, which basically earned him a spot on this season’s roster. The last relief spot is where it gets a little tricky. After Rafael Dolis was optioned to Triple-A yesterday, only three candidates remain. Zach Putnam, Hisanori Takahashi and Cory Wade, all with major league experience, are the three in battle. None of the three were with the Cubs last season, but Wade did spend a good amount of time in the big leagues. As of now, it looks like the favorite to win the job is Takahashi, because it would give the Cubs a second lefty in the bullpen, something that most teams usually carry on Opening Day.
Here is the complete bullpen outlook for the Cubs, as I see it:
CL Carlos Marmol
LSU James Russell
RSU Kyuji Fujikawa
SU/MR Shawn Camp
RMR Michael Bowden
LMR Hisanori Takahashi
LR Hector Rondon