In a series of otherwise innocuous bullets in Jon Heyman’s Cubs notes from Thursday lie what could be considered a bombshell. Or maybe it’s a landmine. I don’t want to go so far as to say the openings on the pitching staff are fungible, but there exists no shortage of options for middle relief and the rotation. Closer, though, that’s not such an easy role to fill.
It’s expected that the Cubs will pursue Wade Davis, but they went ahead and extended a qualifying offer to him as a means of hedging their bets against his possible departure. Heyman mentions, and he’s not the first to do so, that the Cubs might also look into erstwhile Royals and Rockies closer Greg Holland. However, the Rockies have extended a QO of their own to Holland and are expected to pursue a longer deal with him.
That leaves the Cubs, who lack a reliable in-house stopper, with the very real possibility of missing out on the top two closers on the market. Except…wait, did he say?
…someone familiar with [the Cubs] system said he believes prospect Dillon Maples could be a candidate for a back-end spot in their pen, as well.
It’s no secret that Maples has electric stuff, some of the best in the game, and could be an impact pitcher coming out of the ‘pen. After he finally got healthy and took it upon himself to trust his breaking stuff enough to pitch backwards, the hard-throwing righty rocketed through the system to go from high-A to MLB in a single season.
Triple-digit heat and a wipeout slider? Sounds like a potential closer. Except for one thing.
Maples has a tendency to miss the zone way too often, as evidenced by a career 5.6 BB/9 in the minors. He showed more of the same in his brief action with the Cubs, walking six men in just over five innings. Of course, there were also 11 strikeouts in that same small sample.
If we look a little closer at what Heyman wrote, it’s pretty clear that the stuff about Maples closing is highly hypothetical. The Cubs aren’t confident in Carl Edwards Jr. or Justin Wilson to handle the 9th inning, so there’s no way they’d be comfortable sticking a rookie into the highest-leverage spots. With a stated need for strike-throwers, Maples simply doesn’t have the pedigree to close MLB games. Not yet.
Should they lose Davis in free agency, I find it much more likely that the Cubs would look to any one of a number of available relievers with previous experience closing games. While it’s maybe not the ideal scenario, it would provide a little more security at the back end of the ‘pen and could even afford Maples with something of an apprenticeship.
It won’t happen this coming season, but the prospect of having a homegrown closer at some point in the near future is pretty exciting.