Posted on January 24, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Chicago Cubs have been awfully quiet this offseason, especially for a team looking to contend in 2019. But they took a short break from their winter slumber on Thursday to add to their bullpen. The Cubs have reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with reliever Brad Brach worth $4.35 million. There is also a mutual option for the 2020 season worth $5 million if both Brach and the Cubs want to extend their partnership for an extra year. If the Cubs decline their end, Brach could still return to Chicago in 2020 at a lower salary.
Brach, who turns 33 in April, has quietly been one of the most consistent relievers in baseball for much of his career. After a couple of solid seasons with the Padres, Brach started to take off after landing with the Orioles in 2014, going 7-1 with a 3.18 ERA that year. His true breakout season came in 2016 when Brach was 10-4 with a 2.05 ERA, earning an invitation to the All-Star Game.
He’s not quite matched that kind of productivity over the last two seasons. However, Brach continued to be a reliable late-game reliever for the Orioles. He’s even accumulated 33 saves during his big league career. Most of them have come over the past two seasons when the Orioles needed him to fill in for Zach Britton. Last year, Brach saved 11 games in 13 chances despite a modest 4.85 ERA. He was then traded to the Braves in late July and pitched to a 1.52 ERA in 27 appearances while helping Atlanta secure the NL East title.
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In Chicago, Brach will join a bullpen that had the lowest ERA in the National League last year. Outside of Justin Wilson, who remains a free agent, the Cubs are retaining most of their top relief pitchers from a season ago. That means Brach won’t be expected to be a savior by any stretch. He’ll just be another quality late-game reliever the Cubs will use in hopes of replicating last season’s success late in games.
Of course, it was important for the Cubs to add to their bullpen this offseason, especially with someone like Brach who has experience as a closer. Projected closer Brandon Morrow was held back by multiple stints on the DL in 2018. He also underwent minor elbow surgery in November that could cause him to miss the early part of the season. Morrow’s situation made bullpen depth one of Chicago’s more pressing needs this winter.
In the event that Morrow is once again held back by injury, Brach and Pedro Strop figure to be the top candidates to step in as the closer. Strop saved 13 games for the Cubs last season in Morrow’s absence. Steve Cishek also boasts 125 career saves, making him an option as well. Carl Edwards Jr. and Brandon Kintzler round out Chicago’s contingent of late-game relievers who can help fill the void if Morrow or one of Chicago’s other relievers succumbs to injury.
With Brach joining that group of pitchers, the Cubs should feel confident in their bullpen heading into spring training. When fully healthy, Chicago will have half a dozen relievers who should be trusted in late-game situations. Brach makes an already strong bullpen even stronger, as the Cubs hope their relief pitching can help carry them back to the playoffs in 2019.