Jesse Rogers recaps the Cubs by position and looks at what changes might be in store for 2014.
Talk about an upside down aspect of the Cubs in 2013, the bullpen would qualify. Just two members from Opening Day -- James Russell and Hector Rondon -- made it through the season unscathed. Injuries and ineffectiveness were the norm but there were bright spots, especially after the first couple of months. Kevin Gregg solidified the ninth inning, at least for a while, and a few other names emerged with potential for next season and beyond.
The good: Let's start with Gregg. No matter what you thought of him at season's close or his mouthing off about his role in the final weeks, Gregg was a savior in the middle months of the season. He was 12 for 12 in save chances to begin his second stint as a Cub and finished with 33 for the season. Not bad for a guy who was picked up off the scrap heap. His pinpoint control -- especially with his fastball -- was his signature. Juxtaposed against the first few weeks of Carlos Marmol and Kyuji Fujikawa, Gregg looked even better. Pedro Strop might be the heir apparent for that role as his arm was electric at times after coming over in a mid-season trade with Baltimore. Meanwhile, Rondon improved as the season went on and might be in line for a set-up role. Russell was just OK after a stellar 2012 but remained a mainstay through some tough times. Justin Grimm, Matt Guerrier and Blake Parker all had moments in the second half that could give them a leg up come 2014, if healthy.
The bad: The Cubs went through relievers in 2013 like they've gone through managers over the years. Starting the season with Marmol as the closer was a big mistake. It didn't help when Fujikawa went down with a season-ending injury as the Cubs went on to blow 26 saves. Shawn Camp was predictably ineffective due to his workload the season before and Hisanori Takahashi failed as a second lefty in the pen. Michael Bowden, Kameron Loe, Brooks Raley, Alberto Cabrera and Eduardo Sanchez are among those with ERAs north of 4.30. Even though Rondon came on late he finished with an ERA of 4.77. If not for the expansion of rosters in September, the Cubs would have overused Russell as they had no other competent lefty in the bullpen all season. That's on the front office.
Who's next: Going outside the organization for a reliever or two is a distinct possibility but there's a good chance the Cubs will also look from within to fill some roles. It's doubtful Gregg will be back which means Strop could be the man to close games with Fujikawa, if healthy, helping out. Rondon, Russell and Parker should have jobs, if none are moved, along with Carlos Villanueva, assuming he's not starting. Another left-hander could be essential as the appearances start to pile up for Russell. Raley or Zach Rosscup will have to show they are ready for prime time.
2014 outlook: When you're in the cellar there's only one way to go: up. The Cubs' bullpen ranked 25th in baseball in ERA (4.04) in 2013 and blew those 26 saves, second worst in the National League. Better decisions out of spring training are needed with another veteran arm or two to solidify things. By year's end the 'pen wasn't bad so picking up where they left off won't be the worst thing. If Strop becomes a legitimate closer, 2014 might be deemed a success for that alone.