Picking through the dumpster that was the Cubs in 2013 -- and 2012, for that matter -- I thought they’d found something on the mound beyond Travis Wood.
And that was reliever Pedro Strop, a hard-throwing right-handed reliever acquired from Baltimore along with right-handed starter Jake Arrieta in the deal for Scott Feldman last summer.
Strop had a seriously bad 7.25 ERA in 29 outings with the the Orioles. But as a Cub, Strop posted a 2.83 ERA and recorded a WHIP of 0.94, sixth-lowest in the National League from July 4 through the end of the season.
Strop showed enough stuff and efficiency that he was given some chances to close games in place of Kevin Gregg, who was bad on the mound and dumber off it. Gregg popped off about Strop’s getting save opportunities. He couldn’t figure out that his future is not a future any team wants.
Strop, though, is a different story. Live arm. Terrific stuff. Shutdown innings. Indeed, there were many indications that Strop might be the closer for the Cubs, who desperately need pitching -- any kind of pitching, all kinds of pitching.
And then the Cubs signed Jose Veras in the offseason and declared him their closer.
I still can’t figure it out. Maybe the Cubs only expect to get three months out of Veras and trade him the way they trade everybody who gives them three good months. Is the return for Veras better than the experience closing games that Strop could be getting instead?
Veras saved 19 games with the Astros last season. I didn’t know the Astros won 19 games total, so that’s something. Veras was traded to the Tigers before the deadline and pitched as a middle reliever for the AL Central champs.
Veras is 33. He’s no more a part of the Cubs future than Gregg was. Why was he signed, no matter how comparatively inexpensive he was? Why would you want him in the way of a hard-throwing closer of the future?
Even if Strop isn’t that guy, this would be a season to find out. Strop is 28, which Theo Epstein believes is the start of a player’s prime, if he’s going to have a prime. Me, I’d want to find out if Strop could have a prime.
He’s arbitration-eligible next season, so perhaps the Cubs have a money play they believe trumps letting a pitcher pitch in tough situations to find out if you can trust him to do it when it matters.
The Cubs will stink again this season. They will lose, I don’t know, 88, 95, some ridiculous number of games, and it will be about building up the organization.
So, you wouldn’t be throwing Strop into a division race. You’d be giving him a chance to do what he looked good doing last season.
Epstein’s Cubs have had major-league problems when it comes to young arms. There aren’t any reliable young arms in the majors, and that’s the problem. Strop has an arm that might nudge that forward. I don’t know why you’d pay someone to stand in his way.
Maybe Epstein doesn’t think Strop is ready to be a closer. Maybe the Cubs want to give him the job in July when they trade Veras. Maybe they want to handle young pitching the way they’re trying to handle young hitting. Maybe that’ll work out.
Hope so, because the alternative is a decision-making process that might never deliver to the Cubs the most important part of winning in the major leagues.