By BRUCE MILES
For my money, the first law of modern baseball is that bullpens are the most fickle and finicky part of any team.
The second law is that the bullpen that starts the season is never the one that finishes the season.
“Annually bullpens are difficult to really define,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday during his “Thanksmas” charity event in Chicago. “It normally takes about a month to figure out what you’ve got going on. We’ll work our way through (spring training) camp, and then that first month of the season, they’ll tell us where they belong.”
It will be a revamped Cubs relief corps. Gone is closer Wade Davis, who signed a free-agent deal with the Colorado Rockies. Former closer Hector Rondon was not tendered a contract, and he signed with the Houston Astros. Dependable lefty Brian Duensing is a free agent after one season with the Cubs.
So far this offseason, the Cubs have signed former Dodgers right-hander Brandon Morrow, and until further notice he will be the closer. They’ve added others to the mix, including side-armer Steve Cishek, who took part in the Cubs’ service-day program Thursday at Kilmer Elementary School in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. He was the lone active Cubs player to participate, joining Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and TV analyst Jim Deshaies, the emcee for the event.
Cishek, who pitched last year for Seattle and Tampa Bay, knows all about the ups and downs a bullpen endures.
“For sure,” Cishek said. “We spend more time together than any other ballplayers on the team. We’re out there on like a stranded island, sometimes it feels like. It’s a lot of conversations going on. We’re always trying to pick each other up. That’s always been the M.O. When one guy goes out there and your name’s called, you’re going out there to pick him up whether it was good or bad. That’s your job, to put a zero on the board.”
Maddon expects lefty Justin Wilson to bounce back. Wilson had a rough go after the Cubs obtained him in a July 31 trade with Detroit. With the Cubs, Wilson had an ERA of 5.09 and a WHIP of 2.09.
Returning are Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Carl Edwards Jr. and swingman Mike Montgomery.
“Love it,” Maddon said. “Brandon Morrow, you saw what he was able to do. I’ve been a fan of this fella for years. It’s very exciting to get him out there at the end of the game, him understanding exactly what’s going on and trying to parcel his work and not overutilize him.
“I think a little linchpin is Justin Wilson. We get him back on track, which I believe we will, he’ll make all the difference in the world to the success of our bullpen because beyond that, you look at CJ (Edwards) and Stropie, they’re bedrock. They’re versatile. They’re the (Ben) Zobrist kind of relief pitchers. You could put them anywhere and they don’t care.”
Crediting Trader Jack: Steve Cishek credits former big-league manager “Trader” Jack McKeon for helping him perfect his unorthodox delivery when both were with the Marlins.
“I’ve been pretty much the same, similar arm angle as long as I can remember,” Cishek said. “I don’t know how to throw any other way. They tried to make me throw over the top one year, and it was a disaster in the minor leagues. I threw harder, but I was getting crushed.
“It’s funny. You don’t get the workload in the minor leagues you do in the big leagues. In ’ 11, Jack McKeon took over as manager. And I was literally throwing off the mound every day, just in case. My arm got tired, man. Sure enough, just to keep the ball down, my arm slot got lower and lower, and it’s just a natural arm slot for me. I kind of credit Jack for that.”
Cubs promote three: The Cubs on Thursday promoted Scott Harris to assistant general manager and Jeff Greenberg to director of baseball operations. They named Shiraz Rehman assistant GM/strategic initiatives.
Harris enters his sixth season with the Cubs. He joined them in 2012 as director of baseball operations.
Greenberg also joined the Cubs in 2012 as a baseball-operations intern and was later promoted to assistant to the GM before the 2015 season.
Rehman, who has served the past five seasons as assistant GM, will “focus on evaluating existing systems, and identifying & implementing solutions in an effort to create competitive advantages for the organization,” according to the team’s statement.