The good news is that the Cubs believe they have some pitching on the way that could help in 2019.
The bad news, according to Jason McLeod, Cubs vice president in charge of scouting and player development, is that it’s taken too long for that to happen.
At the Cubs Convention over the weekend, McLeod was realistic about where the bullpen is at the moment, but also optimistic about its prospects, both theoretical and actual.
“I don’t think you ever feel comfortable with where your bullpen is,” McLeod said. “You understand the attrition. Nothing is a given. Guys are gonna get hurt.
“We have the pieces to have another formidable pen, but that’s an area we’re going to try to address over the next month.”
Beyond the acquisitions they intend to make, McLeod sounds confident that the Cubs can count on some help from the minors this time around.
“I wouldn’t put it out of the realm that Adbert Alzolay helps this year. Maybe it’s in a bullpen role. Maybe you break him in out there,” McLeod said. “We had some guys that broke into Triple-A last year, like a Dakota Mekkes that you don’t hear talked about a lot.
“Duncan Robison isn’t a power guy, but can really pitch to a scouting report.
“We’re finally getting some guys who are graduating to the upper levels of the minor leagues that could be viable options.
“I definitely see progress. When you look at our Triple-A and Double-A staffs, there are guys who are options for us in the very near future. It’s not something way off on the horizon.”
McLeod then took the blame for not drafting and developing pitching faster, but in fairness to McLeod, this Cubs regime was selecting position players the first few years, and those players won a World Series for a franchise waiting more than a century for a title.
That’s not a terrible result.
“We’re extremely frustrated that we’re not further along, that we haven’t had as many guys break through,” McLeod said. “Seven drafts and we’ve only had a couple (pitchers) make an impact. The guy who’s made the most is in Arizona, Zack Godley (traded for Miguel Montero).
“But we have been able to trade some recent draft picks that were pitchers, and that got us Cole Hamels and Jesse Chavez.
“But for five years, we don’t take a pitcher in the first round, and that’s where the majority of the pitchers in the majors come from.
“Look down the road in St. Louis and you see all those great pitchers they were taking in the first round and we were taking college hitters up above them.
“That’s not to make excuses. The reality is we need to be better and we’re finally at a point where we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
In the meantime, Cubs fans haven’t gotten over the 2018 finish. If it makes you feel any better, neither have the Cubs themselves.
“I’m not really surprised by the reaction,” McLeod said of the current unease. “That’s what expectations and high standards do.
“I think everybody feels a collective disappointment with how the year ended. We all understand the talent that’s on this team and as good of an accomplishment as it is to win 95 games — and on paper to have four really good seasons — once you get to a level where you expect to go deep every year and you don’t go as far as you expect to go, there is disappointment.
“We all feel that. Our players feel it, too.”
And spending $300 million on a single player isn’t necessarily the answer to every question, nor the solution to every problem.
“It depends on the situation for any perspective club,” McLeod said, as he scanned a room filled with Cubs players. “We have guys who didn’t play up to their capabilities, which speaks to the depth of the team. Our pitching staff and bullpen really had to carry us.
“It does speak to the talent on the ballclub that we could win that many games knowing so many guys could have had better years.
“We have a lot of guys in their mid 20s, late 20s, who have MVP ability, and so as much attention as those big free agents are getting this year, we have the guys in the clubhouse to put us back in the World Series — and win another World Series.”
As each fan fest rolls around, it’s surprising to see McLeod still on board, each offseason teams flirting with him as they search for the next great general manager.
“It’s funny. It’s one of those things where you feel privileged to go through the process and have those interviews, but at the same time you feel so privileged to be here working in a great place,” McLeod said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh man, I gotta go back and work for the Cubs again.’
“I love it here, working with my best friends (Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer), so put it behind and concentrate on doing what we have to do to go deep in the postseason again.”
On that front, there is still work to be done.