While many of my other pieces this off-season have focused more on middle relief or setup options, this one will focus on the back end of the Cubs bullpen. One of the most interesting stories of the 2017 season, specifically the postseason, was the enormous success of Brandon Morrow for the Dodgers following five straight injury-plagued seasons.
Position: Right-handed pitcher, reliever
2017 Stats: 43.2 IP, 2.06 ERA, 3.17 DRA, 67.4 DRA-, 80 cFIP, 29.4% K, 5.3% BB
How He Fits: With the departure of Wade Davis, the Cubs have a clear opening for the closer spot. While they have a couple solid in-house candidates in Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr., they could opt to go outside the organization. One of the best options for that spot is Morrow. While he hasn’t closed before, he excelled in a high leverage role with the Dodgers last year, especially in the postseason. His velocity ticked way up this year, more than 3 full mph from 94.69 in 2016 to 97.82 in 2017. In addition to the power fastball Morrow also introduced a wipeout slider in 2017. His whiff rate on the pitch rose from 12.5 percent in 2016 to 23.98 in 2017.
In addition to the solid strikeout and walk numbers, Morrow also did an astonishing job of limiting damage last year. In his nearly 44 innings of work he did not give up a single home run (He’s probably due for some regression here) and he held opposing hitters to a .166 TAv despite a reasonable .282 BABIP against.
Perhaps the best reason to give Morrow a chance is that he will likely be extremely affordable. With his injury history and never having been a full-time closer in the past, Morrow is looking at a much cheaper deal than available closers Wade Davis and Greg Holland, but the stuff might be better than both of them. Here are some of the salary projections for Morrow across various sites:
As you can see by these predictions, the contract Morrow is expected to get is extremely reasonable. These folks project Morrow to get 2-3 years at somewhere between about $8 million and $11 million per year. At these prices even if Morrow doesn’t end up living up to expectations, his contract won’t be dead weight.
Why It Won’t Work: The same reasons that Morrow works for the Cubs are also the reasons that he might not work. The first one of those being his injury history. He has a long track record full of injuries, making a future contract for the 33 year old quite risky. While the money wouldn’t kill the Cubs if he did get hurt, the risk of a guy losing a full year on a 2-3 year deal makes things tough to swallow. In addition to the injury history, Morrow was really overused during the Dodgers playoff run last year. While the Dodgers didn’t mean to use him as much as they did, the way the games played out forced them to use Morrow in 14 of their 15 postseason games. For a guy with an extensive injury history, that is certainly a red flag moving forward.
The other reason this might not work is because Morrow doesn’t have any closing experience. While many on the statistical side don’t like to acknowledge that the final three outs of the game are any different, baseball players (especially relievers) can often be really fickle beings. Along those same lines, while the Cubs might offer Morrow a shot at the closer role, they might not want to guarantee him the role. Not having a set closer could be difficult not only for Morrow, but also for guys like Strop and Edwards Jr. Of course there is always the possibility that these guys are wired differently and they don’t have any issue with there not being a set closer.
Alternatives: You might be sick of the list that I’ve shared for each right-handed reliever, but this one is a tad different. The Cubs could opt for a higher price free agent closer and sign Wade Davis or Greg Holland. If the Cubs opt for lower price free agent closers, they could give guys like Steve Cishek, Addison Reed, Anthony Swarzak or Pat Neshek a shot. The last route the Cubs could take is trade. They could go after Zach Britton from the Orioles, Alex Colome from the Rays, Brad Hand from the Padres, Kelvin Herrera from the Royals or Mark Melancon from the Giants.
Lead photo courtesy Gary A. Vasquez—USA Today Sports