Within a broader look at the potential return of Ben Zobrist later this season, The Athletic’s Patrick Mooney writes (subscription required) that the Cubs believe they can shift their trade-deadline focus to acquiring left-handed relief help now that they’ve addressed their biggest need by signing Craig Kimbrel.
Lefty relief has indeed been an issue for the Cubs in 2019, as they’ve had somewhat of a revolving door to the bullpen while cycling through southpaws. Kyle Ryan has been a relatively steady presence, pitching to a 4.37 ERA (3.55 FIP) with a strong 27-to-8 K/BB ratio in 22 2/3 innings. Beyond him, the club has received sub-par results from Mike Montgomery, who has also missed time due to injury. Xavier Cedeno, signed in Spring Training, has only been healthy enough to tally a pair of innings but began a minor league rehab assignment this week. Randy Rosario hasn’t fared well in a small sample of work, nor has Tim Collins.
One key but yet-unknown variable in the Cubs’ search will be just how much financial leeway the front office has at its disposal. Cubs ownership plainly stated it had nothing more to spend on the roster back in February; it was largely because of the money saved from placing Zobrist on the restricted list that Kimbrel even became a viable option. That said, Mooney notes that president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and his front office typically set aside a “significant” amount of money for in-season additions each winter.
If the Cubs do have some reserve funds at the ready, then acquiring a half-season of a lefty reliever’s salary could well be feasible. Even if that’s not the case, it’s always possible to convince a potential trade partner to include some cash in a deal. Doing so would likely require a greater prospect package, though, and the Cubs’ farm system is not among the game’s most highly regarded.
As for lefty relievers that can be expected to become available, the market should bear plenty of options. Giants southpaw Will Smith will headline the rental class, though his teammate, Tony Watson, is a highly appealing alternative. Kansas City’s Jake Diekman is in the midst of a strong season and should be available, too. Depending on how the next several weeks play out for their respective clubs, either Sean Doolittle or Brad Hand could become available, though each would have a substantial price tag attached to his name in negotiations. Either San Diego’s Robbie Erlin or Seattle’s Roenis Elias could be more affordable alternatives. Both are controlled beyond the 2019 campaign and in the midst of solid seasons. Other names will surely emerge — particularly if some current fringe Wild Card contenders fall out of the race and sell off pieces.
In speaking with Mooney, Epstein voiced a willingness to be “proactive” while noting that this year’s one true trade deadline could create a unique market environment. “It’s very competitive out there, so we’ll see,” said Epstein. “…The new rules this year, too, will probably make for a higher volume across the industry, even if there are a lot of small deals.”