Cubs 2012 recaps: Bullpen

After losing his closer's job early in the season, Carlos Marmol re-claimed the role and finished with 20 saves. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

With the 2012 season finally over, Doug Padilla reviews the Cubs by position this week. Today he focuses on the bullpen.

There were no surprises as the Chicago Cubs' bullpen was expected to be a weakness and it became a major contributor to the slow start that railroaded the season.

Make no mistake, the 2012 Cubs were going to struggle regardless, but the poor outings from the relievers in April sealed that fate.

It certainly wasn't going to be easy after the bullpen lost Sean Marshall and Andrew Cashner to trades, while Jeff Samardzija moved into a rotation spot. There were no significant additions, unless you count Shawn Camp's signing at the end of spring training.

There were some bright spots, though, as Carlos Marmol got back at least a bit of his old swagger, James Russell continued with his growth, Camp came through as a workhorse, and newcomer Jaye Chapman showed he could be a valuable contributor to the group in the future.

Still, the group's highlight moment came May 18 when Kerry Wood struck out the White Sox's Dayan Viciedo on three pitches and walked off into retirement.

Wood finished his career with an 86-75 record and a 3.67 ERA. As a reliever, he was 15-20 with a 3.59 ERA and 63 saves. But in 2012, he struggled to an 0-2 record and an 8.31 ERA in 10 appearances.

Wood's struggles and subsequent retirement were indicative of a nagging shoulder injury that forced him to the disabled list in April. The rest of the bullpen didn't have a similar excuse, especially early in the season.

"We had a tough bullpen month to start and lost a lot of close games and kind of buried ourselves right out of the chute," club president Theo Epstein said. "We didn't have the talent to overcome that."

Marmol's season epitomized the plight of the Cubs bullpen. He got off to a horrible start with a loss and a blown save in the first two games. He had a 5.87 ERA at the end of April, a 5.84 mark after May and didn't start to rebound until mid-June when he finally trusted the coaching staff and himself to rely more on his fastball.

Despite operating with mix-and-match parts all season, the bullpen pitched much better over the final two months. Marmol even finished the year with 20 saves and a 3.48 ERA, making him just the fifth pitcher in franchise history with three consecutive seasons of 20 or more saves. He joined Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter, Ryan Dempster and Randy Myers.

Jeff Beliveau, Alberto Cabrera, Rafael Dolis and Blake Parker all got some valuable first-time experience, although technically Dolis did have one outing in 2011.

Michael Bowden, acquired in the Marlon Byrd trade from the Boston Red Sox, showed he has some value after making some midseason adjustments, and Chapman was a pleasant surprise after coming over from the Atlanta Braves in the trade-deadline deal that saw Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson sent away.

Chapman was leaned on heavily after being recalled on Sept. 4 and wasn't scored upon in 10 of his 13 outings.

While the rotation figures to get a makeover this offseason, the same figures to happen with the bullpen, especially if the Cubs can find a taker for Marmol and the $9.8 million he will make on the final year of his contract next season. Marmol posted a 1.52 ERA after the All-Star break so there could be some interest, but the Cubs could still end up eating part of the money.

Expect the Cubs to pursue a right-handed setup-man type this winter along with a left-hander to get Russell some help. Looking around the system for the next potential closer exposes the Cubs' lack of high velocity guys at the lower levels, something that is certain to be addressed in next June's draft.