One of the biggest cheers echoing through the Sheraton Grand Chicago Friday night came when Kyle Farnsworth was announced and strolled across the stage while Pat Hughes touted his ability to throw a 100 mph fastball.
"They should bring him back and add him to this year's bullpen," one fan joked during the Opening Ceremonies at the 2019 Cubs Convention.
Farnsworth looks like he could still light up the radar gun, but he's 42 and three years removed from his last stint in competitive baseball. Still, you can't blame the fan for wanting the Cubs to make *some* addition to the relief corps this winter.
The Cubs bullpen faded down the stretch for a second straight year (thought 2018 was due as much to injury as anything else) and the team watched as Jesse Chavez inked a 2-year, $8 million deal with the Texas Rangers over the winter.
This is the first time in recent memory the Cubs have held their annual convention without also introducing a new bullpen pitcher to the fanbase (unless you count Rowan Wick, the 26-year-old with 10 career appearances who was acquired from San Diego in November and announced last during Opening Cermonies Friday).
Theo Epstein wasn't seriously trying to corner Farnsworth to bring the big right-hander out of retirement, but the Cubs president did acknowledge the concern over the current state of the bullpen and promised additions were coming.
"I don't think we're done [this winter]," Epstein said. "We're working hard to finish off the team. I don't think the team's complete yet, if you look at it. Our position group is pretty darn close to done and we could certainly break camp with what we have right now and feel good about the depth and overall talent and the way the pieces fit together.
"Yes, certain players need to grow from last season and make adjustments. But we think they have the talent and the make-up to do so."
Epstein added the Cubs feel good about the starting rotation and believe it should be a strength of the team, but are still looking to add some more depth at Triple-A Iowa to lend support if injuries befall the staff in a big way.
But the bullpen is the clear weakness of this team at the moment, especially with closer Brandon Morrow slated to miss the first part of the 2019 season rehabbing from an early-November elbow procedure.
"I think the real focus for us is the bullpen," Epstein said. "We have a lot of talent there, but I don't think right now, the bullpen is complete. I know we're working extremely hard to try to add to it, whether it's through trade or the right free agent sign or the right small acquisition that might pay a huge dividend.
"We don't want to have the year we're looking for from our position player group and from our rotation and have our bullpen let us down. And that's something you have to be concerned about and we're working hard to try to add to this group."
The Cubs have "won the winter" (so to speak) on the bullpen front the last two winters, forming a group of established relievers and feeling very confident heading into spring training and, subsquently, Opening Day.
Yet both years, manager Joe Maddon has not had a long list of reliable relief options come late September.
Maybe a slightly different offseason approach to the bullpen can pay off for the Cubs this winter.