The Cubs have some intriguing decisions to make regarding their bullpen in the near future, but their plan may be starting to come into focus.
The way this season started, it would've been impossible to believe that by the first week of May, the Cubs would actually have the problem of boasting too many good options in the bullpen.
But that's what's going on right now, as left-handers Mike Montgomery and Xavier Cedeno are nearing the end of their rehab assignments and Carl Edwards Jr. looks to be righting the ship in Triple-A Iowa.
The current big-league bullpen has actually been the best in baseball the last three-and-a-half weeks and only two relievers have options remaining and are able to be sent back down to the minors — Dillon Maples and Kyle Ryan.
Ryan has been fantastic (3.38 ERA, 1.53 FIP, 13.5 K/9) and is currently the only southpaw in the Cubs bullpen. Maples still has to nail down his command, but he's also induced some flat-out silly reactions from some very good hitters like Adam Jones and Edwin Encarnacion over the last week.
So when Montgomery and Cedeno are ready to go, whose spot do they take in the bullpen?
Montgomery began his rehab assignment from his strained lat on April 17 and has made 3 starts in the Cubs' minor-league system, getting all the way up to 68 pitches on Sunday. The 32-year-old Cedeno has thrown in 6 games — all with Double-A Tennessee — since his first outing on April 18, but has not been particularly effective (4 runs allowed on 8 hits and 4 walks in 5 innings).
One issue resolved itself in the short-term: Veteran Tony Barnette — who signed a big-league deal over the winter — was moved to the 60-day injured list Friday as he continues to experience issues with his balky right shoulder. He was also on a rehab assignment in the Cubs' minor-league system, but he has now been sent back to Arizona for further treatment. The earliest he could return would be the end of May.
Then there's the Edwards factor, as he's back on the right track with Triple-A Iowa after being sent down in the first week of April to work on his physical and mental mechanics.
He missed more than a week of action with a cut on his hand, but has made 3 appearances since returning, including a perfect inning Thursday in which he struck out a pair of hitters.
In total (6 games and 7 innings), Edwards has allowed 2 runs on 3 hits and struck out 7. But more importantly, he's only walked 2 batters after issuing 5 free passes in 1.2 innings at the big-league level to start the season.
However, the Cubs have no intentions of calling Edwards back up to the big leagues in the immediate future.
"We haven't talked about it," Joe Maddon said Friday. "It's just about getting him right. I haven't spoken to Jed [Hoyer] or Theo [Epstein] about that. He had to come off that injury, also, so we had to get him back on the mound.
"Listen, once he's ready to rock and roll, can't wait for him to get back. This guy has shown to be one of the best relief pitchers in the National League. I've talked about it before — I believe he's capable of being a solid closer. We just have to get him over the plate consistently and as we do that, he's going to continue to get better. So yeah, when he's ready to come back, I'm looking forward to it."
The Cubs have given no indication as to when Edwards will be "ready," but right now, they don't need him, Barnette or injured closer Brandon Morrow, who suffered a setback recently in his return from an elbow issue.
That may eventually change for the Cubs — these types of roster issues have a way of working themselves out with injuries and such throughout the marathon of a season — but at the moment, they have plenty of bullpen options and not enough space on the roster to accommodate them all.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.