Cubs Starting to Sound a Little Desperate When Talking Bullpen Upgrades

I don’t know that anyone expected to go into Atlanta and sweep the Braves or even take two of three, but the prevailing thought was that the Cubs could at least be competitive. Depleted roster or no, getting shut out in each of the first two games by a pair of former White Sox pitchers isn’t a good look. Not even North Shore adult diapers are a match for the way the Cubs have pissed themselves lately, which is why the front office may have to be more aggressive than usual in seeking upgrades.

The first such move was to reunite with righty reliever Tyson Miller, a former Cubs farmhand who debuted in the 2020 season and was designated for assignment in May of ’21. Though he’s pitched well this season and should help a bullpen that blows more leads than a young Nancy Reagan, this feels more like duct tape than a permanent solution.

General manager Carter Hawkins came across as borderline desperate — and maybe he’s even crossed that rubicon — when he spoke with reporters about the recent move and overall mindset.

“I think it’s safe to say that we’re looking for any good pitcher and any good reliever right now,” Hawkins said Tuesday. “We will continue to do that. His profile happened to be one that can get right-handers out. It fits well with some of the injuries that we’ve had.

“But, we certainly won’t be picky as we’re looking for upgrades. And we’ll continue to make sure we’re canvassing every opportunity for that.”

The word “any” did a lot of the heavy lifting early, but following it up with saying they “won’t be picky” pushes things into the territory of saying the quiet part out loud. Not that any potential sellers out there can’t smell the acrid tang of urgency from a team that can ill afford to keep coughing up games because its relievers are either lame or, well, lame. Whether we’re talking injuries or ineffectiveness, a bullpen with a 4.50 ERA and 10.8% walk rate isn’t getting you to the postseason.

Maybe the Cubs can wait for Julian Merryweather, Yency Almonte, and Adbert Alzolay all to get back to good health and strong performance. Maybe Héctor Neris will get to where he’s striking out more batters than he walks. Maybe Jed Hoyer will invent a time machine to go back to last winter, when he could have paid for more “certainty” in the bullpen rather than having to trade for it now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of trading prospects to acquire players who fill a need on the roster. Given the sheer number of outfield prospects they’ve got in addition to the guys they’re already committed to in Chicago, it’s entirely possible an amenable deal can be struck for a legit high-leverage arm. Mason Miller is probably a stretch, but don’t let me stop you from dreaming.

The bigger point is that everyone, including the Cubs, knew they needed to do more on the bullpen front in the offseason. We can blame their internal cost-value analysis, uncooperative agents, or whatever else, but we’ve marched firmly into toldja-so territory at this point. Hell, Hoyer told himself.

Not that it even matters when the offense can’t scratch out so much as a single tally over 18 innings. With all that’s gone wrong, there’s still a sense that this team can get rolling if they ever manage to rise from the muck of poor fortune that keeps pulling them back down. No one’s running away with the NL Central and there are loads of divisional matchups coming up over the next several weeks.

“We’ve got to be kind of willing to adjust on the fly and adapt on the fly,” Craig Counsell said in Atlanta. “And I think our guys have done a really good job of that. And that’s what periods like this kind of require.”

Just keep treading water, keep kicking tires, keep hoping supplication to the baseball gods will yield fewer injuries. Selfishly, I just want to watch a few games that don’t make me anxious or nauseous. Is that too much to ask? Please let the answer be no.

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