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Brandon Morrow injury isn’t the end-all for the bullpen

On Thursday, we learned Chicago Cubs closer Brandon Morrow had orthoscopic surgery to debride his right elbow and won’t be available until at least May.

This season, Chicago Cubs right-hander Brandon Morrow pitched to a 1.47 ERA, 2.96 FIP and 1.076 WHIP in 30 2/3 innings of work. After joining the team on a two-year, $21 million deal with an option for 2020, Morrow seemed to be on a roll when the injury bug reared its ugly head on two separate instances.

A fairly common one? A bone bruise in his pitching arm. The unusual? He strained his back while putting on his pants. Both cut his first year in Chicago short. He threw his final pitch of the year on July 15 – just past the halfway point of the regular season.

Now it seems Morrow won’t be back until at least May. And a lot of Cubs fans are freaking out.  But let’s chill a little here; it will be okay.  First, an elbow debridement is a relatively common procedure and while there’s no such thing as “minor” surgery this is about as minor as it gets.  It’s not like he had Tommy John surgery.

Vote for Pedro 

We made it through almost half the season with mainly Pedro Strop serving as closer.  Strop earned 11 saves, pitched to a 1.77 ERA and held opposing batters to a .139 average over 20 1/3 innings pitched.

I am confident he’s got our backs for a month-plus of the 2019 season.  In 79 career March/April innings Strop has pitched to a 2.85 ERA and1.114 WHIP.  May is historically his toughest month but, hopefully, we’ll have Morrow back by then.

Bullpen depth just took a hit

The biggest challenge facing the Cubs now is a dire need for more bullpen depth. Now on that point, before you assert that the Cubs should not have let Jesse Chavez go, remember he had a very good one-third of a season.  I liked him too, and the Cubs made him a reasonable offer, but Texas made him a better one and at age 36 he was smart to take their offer.  I’m not confident that he can convert his 2018 performance for a month and a half into a full year.

It’s true that a potential backend trio of Chavez-Strop-Morrow just got upended.  But there appear to be three paths to resolve the depth issue.  First, count on Strop to close until Morrow returns, Edwards fills in for Strop in the eighth-inning spot and Steve Cishek or Mike Montgomery is the seventh inning guy.  I like Cishek for that role because using Montgomery there takes a long reliever out of the mix. That still leaves a depth issue to resolve.

Second, they could go to the free agent market or trade for a closer.  That’s a path only if the front office really believes Morrow won’t be back for a larger part of the season.  I don’t see that happening right now.

Third, to resolve the depth issue they could rely on some of the current crop of prospects to step up, such as Dillon MaplesAlec Mills or Rob Zastryzny.  If that leaves you a little anxious, you’re not alone.

The front office still needs to find bullpen depth for 2019 and they’ve been pretty good at that over the years (Cahill, Duensing, the aforementioned Chavez, etc). There is no reason to believe they won’t be just as successful this offseason.

Next: Chicago Cubs: Former infielder Luis Valbuena dies at age 33

There are over sixty free agent relievers still available and the Winter Meetings are just starting.  There might be other reasons to worry, but finding bullpen depth isn’t one of them.

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