Season preview: Bullpen

Coming off 10 blown saves last season, Carlos Marmol had an inconsistent spring. Rob Tringali/Getty Images

While the Chicago Cubs rotation is where the new front office made some additions, the bullpen is where some serious subtraction took place.

Sean Marshall is gone and so is Jeff Samardzija, who has moved into the rotation. Andrew Cashner could have been moved to the bullpen, but not after he was moved to the San Diego Padres first.

What remains are a lot of question marks, starting with closer Carlos Marmol, who had an inconsistent spring after blowing a baseball-high 10 save opportunities last season. He blew leads in consecutive outings early in the spring and that was before he missed nearly a week after leaving a game because of a cramp in his throwing hand.

Fan favorite Kerry Wood is also back, but at age 35 in June and already held to a limited schedule in the spring, the setup man’s workload will have to be managed. Wood basically rolled his eyes when reporters asked about his low number of Cactus League appearances, essentially saying it was a non-issue.

The facts are that Wood is coming off arthroscopy knee surgery this offseason and an unspecified back issue that cropped up early in camp. He’s ready to go now but if he has any more health issues, the Cubs are at a loss for anybody who can fill in and pitch at the right-hander’s level.

More questions remain down the line, including the fact that James Russell is the only left-hander and Rafael Dolis has pitched in just one game above the Double-A level.

If Marmol struggles early, his replacement figures to be a closer-by-committee situation since it’s possible that Wood wouldn’t be able to absorb all the innings the job would require. Not an ideal scenario by any means.

There seems to be no way the Cubs don’t end up making a trade at some point to help reinforce this group.

Expect Russell to be the workhorse with somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 appearances. He delivered a solid spring and seemed to only get better as the Cactus league schedule progressed.

Randy Wells could have been the long man in this group, and his dejection over getting sent down to Triple-A showed that he would have preferred it over the assignment he received. But the Cubs’ staff essentially decided he would be more valuable starting at Iowa and being prepared to join the major-league rotation if needed over picking up random innings in relief in Chicago.

Three keys to success

•Wood is the obvious steadying force in this group and it would do the bullpen wonders if he came out firing to start the season.

• Marmol has the pitches to have success again and showed them during stretches in the spring. If control issues can be managed and he has an early run of success it can only help his confidence.

• Russell can’t handle all the left-handed scenarios on his own so a right-hander will have to step up and show they can get out hitters from both sides of the plate. A trade for a left-hander seems logical at some point.