The Cubs’ bullpen search figures to be expansive this offseason, but Patrick Mooney of NBC Sports Chicago provides some insight into the team’s thinking. Per Mooney, while the Cubs performed their due diligence on Zach Britton at this week’s GM Meetings, they found the asking price to be too high this past summer and aren’t likely to rekindle those talks. Rather, they’ve landed on free-agent righty Brandon Morrow as one potential ninth-inning option and will also monitor the market for former White Sox/D-backs/Mets closer Addison Reed in free agency, according to Mooney.
Chicago got an up-close look at Morrow in the National League Championship Series as he made four practically unblemished appearances against them (4 2/3 innings, one hit, one walk, no runs, seven strikeouts). The resurgent Morrow, whom the Dodgers signed on a minor league contract last offseason, burst back onto the scene midway through the 2017 campaign and emerged as the Dodgers’ best non-Kenley Jansen reliever late in the year. The 33-year-old Morrow turned in a 2.06 ERA with 10.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 and a 45 percent ground-ball rate in 43 2/3 regular-season innings before dominating for much of the postseason.
The Dodgers rode Morrow incredibly hard in the playoffs, though, and by the end of the World Series some fatigue was clear. Morrow became just the second pitcher in MLB history to pitch in all seven games of the World Series, and he appeared in a staggering 14 of the Dodgers’ 15 postseason contests. Though he was excellent in most of those games, he was shelled for four runs without recording an out in Game 5 of the World Series — the lone game in 2017 in which he was asked to pitch on three consecutive days.
That extreme postseason workload and Morrow’s greater injury history could give some teams pause in the free-agent market, but interest in Morrow figures to be robust all the same. We pegged him for a three-year deal on our top 50 free agent list, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see half the league express some level of interest.
As for Reed, he’s been as durable as relievers come. The 28-year-old (29 next month) has never been on the disabled list in the Majors and has averaged 67 appearances and 66 innings per season over the life of his big league career. Reed has plenty of ninth-inning experience, having 15 or more games in four separate seasons.
Control was an issue for the Chicago bullpen for much of the season — their 4.25 BB/9 rate tied for second-worst among big league bullpens — and it’s one area in which Reed excels. He’s averaged just 2.3 walks per nine innings pitched in his seven-year career, and that includes an even more minuscule 1.6 BB/9 mark over the past two years. (It’s perhaps telling that the Cubs are interested in two free-agent relievers that ranked among the top of the free-agent class in terms of best control.) Reed’s age, durability and track record make him one of the more appealing arms on the market — to the point that we pegged him as one of just four relievers to secure a four-year deal on this year’s free agent market.
It stands to reason that Morrow and Reed are just two of many names that the Cubs are intrigued by in the early stages of the offseason. In addition to free agency, there will be no shortage of relievers discussed in trades this offseason. President of baseball ops Theo Epstein, however, implied to Mooney that the Cubs may not continue to operate as they have in recent years when it comes to targeting bullpen talent, stating that he has no desire to “make a it a habit” to trade players with five or six years of control (e.g. Jorge Soler, Gleyber Torres) for one-year rentals.