CHICAGO -- He may end up making the most money of all the relievers, but the addition of potential closer Jose Veras to the Chicago Cubs' bullpen is just one small move to improve on a part of the team that wasn't very good in 2013.
Veras agreed to a deal Tuesday joining a group that includes Justin Grimm, Blake Parker, Hector Rondon, James Russell, Pedro Strop, Carlos Villanueva and newcomer Wesley Wright, among others. Prospect Arodys Vizcaino and Japanese pitcher Kuyji Fujikawa are rehabbing from injuries and are expected back in 2014 as well.
As a whole, the bullpen looks that much better than at the beginning of last season when Carlos Marmol anchored the back end of a group that blew 26 saves and produced the third-worst ERA (4.04) in the National League. The turnover by midseason was astounding as only Rondon and Russell survived from start to finish.
"That was one of our biggest regrets from last year," general manager Jed Hoyer said last week at the winter meetings. "We have spent a lot of time about the bullpen, thinking of ways to get better."
At the same time, Hoyer was quick to point out the holdovers are better positioned to have success next year. The Cubs simply have more depth and now are "redundant" in several roles to withstand injury or ineffectiveness.
The Veras signing is small potatoes because he's probably not part of any long-term plan considering his one-year contract and age (33). He's the perfect candidate to be flipped near the trade deadline as the Cubs have had loads of success -- at least on paper -- in moving veteran pitchers mid-year the last couple of seasons.
What's more interesting about the Cubs' bullpen is who might be around when the time comes for this team to contend. That's always in the back of everyone's mind. It's the same notion the team is looking at in regard to position players and starting pitchers. Why not the bullpen as well? This comes with a caveat, of course. Relievers are inherently hard to pin down. Your young, stud closer one season can look bad the next.
But while the Cubs try to figure out core players for the rest of the team, they may as well see who might stick as a reliever. Remember, the bullpen goes from the least important part of a rebuilding team to one of the most important part of a contending one.
If Veras is the closer to start the year, and is traded by July, that allows the younger Strop (28) to ease into the role. He had a few chances at the end of games last season while pitching lights out as a set-up man. He did not allow any of the nine runners he inherited to score while producing a WHIP under 1.00.
Strop could be the future closer for a contending team.
Rondon and Parker matured as last season wore on and are young enough to be candidates for middle relief as the team turns the corner. Same can be said of others including the fireballer, Vizcaino. Still considered a top pitching prospect within the organization his return from Tommy John surgery is much anticipated.
The Cubs will be better in 2014 if their bullpen is better. Any team in baseball can make that assertion but like everything else within the organization, what's important are the long-term prospects of the younger pitchers under team control. It makes the Veras signing a nice one but ultimately not one that means a lot – until he’s traded for a new piece to the puzzle.
Either way the bullpen is already better than a season ago. If fans are happy about that, just think how the Cubs starting staff must feel.