Though Spring Training is underway, this offseason business is ongoing. The Cubs just reached an agreement to bring back Cody Bellinger over the weekend, a three-year, $80MM pact with a couple of opt-outs.
Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic took a look at what could be next for the Cubs and suggested they may be done making notable additions, including in the bullpen. The club had been connected to right-hander Ryne Stanek last month and Sharma reports that the interest was mutual. However, Stanek’s asking price didn’t drop to the point that the Cubs felt it was worth it to bring him aboard and sacrifice some roster flexibility.
The club’s current bullpen projection doesn’t feature a lot of optionable guys. Adbert Alzolay still has one option but he emerged as the club’s closer last year and will certainly be up with the big league club. Then there’s Héctor Neris, Mark Leiter Jr., Julian Merryweather, Drew Smyly and Yency Almonte, all of whom are either out of options or can’t be optioned by virtue of having more than five years of big league service time.
As Sharma points out, clubs generally like to have a couple of optionable guys in the bullpen so that fresh arms can be summoned during the season when the staff is taxed. The Cubs already have five spots taken by guys who can’t be sent down and Alzolay makes six. Stanek is a veteran with over six years of service time, meaning he wouldn’t be able to be optioned either. If they were to add him into the mix, they would have seven of their eight bullpen slots locked up.
Stanek, 32, is coming off a decent three-year run with the Astros. He made 186 appearances over that time with a 2.90 ERA and strong 27% strikeout rate, though a high walk rate of 12.2%. He got that walk rate down to 9.9% last year but his strikeout rate also fell to 23.9%. He’s arguably the best reliever still on the open market but it seems no club has been willing to meet his asking price, including the Cubs. He’s also received interest from the Mets and Red Sox this offseason.
What also might be an issue for the Cubs is the competitive balance tax. Roster Resource lists their CBT number just over $234MM, meaning they are less than $3MM from the base threshold of $237MM. Sharma reports that “there is an understanding that they’re essentially over it” due to inevitable moves that will come over the course of the season. A club’s CBT status isn’t calculated until the end of the season, so the Cubs could always change the calculus throughout the year if they want to. But perhaps they would rather stay where they are so that they have some wiggle room to assess things as the season progresses.