With Chicago Cubs spring training set to begin Feb. 14 in Mesa, Ariz., we're taking an early look around the diamond.
Analysis: Turnover was the norm for the Cubs bullpen in 2013 as it was the weak spot of the team from the opening days of the season. Giving Marmol the closer's job out of spring training was a mistake eventually fixed when the Cubs signed Gregg, but by that time the entire bullpen was suffering. Camp was ineffective after a heavy workload in 2012 and Fujikawa's Tommy John surgery combined with Marmol's struggles doomed the Cubs in the opening months.
Slowly but surely the front office revamped the relief corps and heading into 2014 it looks to be a better group. It can't be much worse after blowing 26 saves and producing a 4.04 ERA. Strop showed he has a live arm and Rondon was quietly effective as was Parker when he got an opportunity. Russell may have struggled some because of overuse but his workload lightened up when the Cubs added another lefty in the bullpen late in the season. He should be better with help.
Outlook: The Cubs admitted they didn't address the bullpen enough last offseason, hence the ensuing turnover. It should be a better and deeper group. Villanueva began last season as a starter but will be the veteran leader of the group in the pen as the Rondon, 25, and Strop, 28, will be called upon in more important innings as the season moves on. Veras is a decent if not overwhelming choice to close games while lefty Wright takes some pressure off of Russell.
If Veras gets moved midseason, Strop will take over as the closer and has a chance to stick with the Cubs longer term. At some point the Cubs could count on righty Arodys Vizcaino to provide some help after two years of injuries. He's still considered a good prospect. Last year, the Cubs had just one left-hander in the bullpen, relied on Marmol too much and were either too young or injured to be effective. Some of those negatives have been eliminated so it's not a stretch to think the bullpen can do a better job this time around. It needs to.