The Cubs have shown a willingness to trade from their surplus of hitters to fix the ninth inning, shipping out their best prospect (Gleyber Torres) last summer to have Aroldis Chapman in the playoffs and flipping Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals at the winter meetings for one season of Wade Davis.
But generally speaking, Theo Epstein’s front office is philosophically against the idea of handing out a big-money, long-term contract to a guy who works one inning at a time, the way the New York Yankees did a record-setting, five-year, $86 million megadeal to bring back Chapman. Ideally, the Cubs would like to find more organic solutions, growing pitchers from within and not buying at the top of the market.
Davis could cash in after a winter that also saw the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers spend $142 million on Mark Melancon and Kenley Jansen in their arms race. While the Cubs acquired Davis with the idea of him getting the last out of the World Series again, they could also be grooming his replacement while watching Carl Edwards Jr. develop into a lights-out reliever.
“He’ll be a closer someday, there’s no doubt,” manager Joe Maddon said before Monday night’s ugly, rain-soaked 10-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. “The biggest thing with him is to not abuse him as he’s getting bigger and stronger. His stuff plays against righties and lefties and he knows how to pitch. Having been a starter a little bit (in the minors), it’s not unlike Wade.
“Wade knows how to pitch. Rafael Soriano – he knows how to pitch. C.J. knows how to pitch. So it’s nice to get those guys at the end of the game that aren’t just throwing that one weapon.”
At the moment, the Cubs are a 13-12 team with inconsistent starting pitching, an offense not quite clicking on all cylinders yet and a defense playing below last year’s historic level. But this bullpen looks far more ready for October than the one put together on Opening Day last year.
Davis hasn’t allowed a run during his first 11 appearances in a Cubs uniform, winning two games and going 6-for-6 in save chances. Edwards finished April with 10 scoreless innings, stranding all five inherited runners while limiting opponents to two hits through 30 at-bats.
“I don’t want to rush anything,” Maddon said. “This guy can do several different things. But more than anything, I’m just liking his ability to breathe and be right here. It’s really outstanding to watch."
With a 95-mph fastball and that feel for pitching, Edwards lived by a simple code as a rookie: Go right at them. After striking out Mike Trout and forcing Albert Pujols to ground out in a one-run game last August – the same inning where Pedro Strop tore the meniscus in his left knee – Edwards put it this way: “I just pull my hat down more, so I don’t see their faces.”
By November, Maddon trusted Edwards to get two outs in the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7. If Edwards can handle that pressure, the ninth inning at Wrigley Field shouldn’t be a problem.