Cubs Add Reliever on the Cheap

The Chicago Cubs have made the playoffs for four straight years, getting to the National League Championship Series three times and quite famously winning it all to finish the 2016 season. Despite making the playoffs in 2018, the Brewers took the division in a tie-breaking game 163, before the Rockies got the best of the Cubs in the Wild Card game. After the disappointing defeat, the offseason has changed little about the Cubs’ 2019 outlook. The coaching staff has undergone some drastic changes with a new pitching coach, hitting coach, and bench coach. The team brought back Cole Hamels, but had to jettison the salary of Drew Smyly in the process; they failed to make a competitive offer on Jesse Chavez, a reliever they liked. Their biggest free agent addition has been that of utilityman Daniel Descalso. To top it off, the team decided to bring back Addison Russell despite his admission of domestic violence; Joe Maddon addressed the matter with fans in a way that could at best be described as clumsy.

Not much has gone well for the Cubs this offseason, but in bringing in Brad Brach for $3 million, as Ken Rosenthal reports, the club might have cheaply added a pitcher who can take some important innings for the club this season. If he does pitch well, the Cubs have an option to bring him back for 2020. With Brandon Morrow’s status uncertain and Carl Edwards, Jr. struggling near the end of the season, Chicago’s bullpen could use some help, and if Brach pitches anything like he has the past few seasons, the 33-year-old righty should provide it.

Back in 2008, Brach was drafted by the Padres in a round that no longer exists in the draft. Despite the low draft profile, Brach pitched well enough in the minors to make the majors in 2011, though he bounced up and down through the 2013 season. That winter, the Padres designated him for assignment and traded him to the Orioles for Devin Jones. Brach struck out 43 of the 101 Triple-A batters he faced in 2014 and became a useful multi-inning reliever for Baltimore that year. In 2015 and 2016, Brach reached nearly 80 innings in both seasons, striking out nearly 30% of batters and walking a third that amount.

In 2017, Brach pitched well again, filling in for injured closer Zach Britton for a time. He got off to a solid start in 2018, but a poorly timed swoon in June and July meant he had very little trade value and the Orioles were only able to pick up $250,000 in international pool money for him at the end of July. He pitched decently well for the Braves in the final two months of the season. Brach looks like a great bargain signing for a team that has decided it is allergic to spending this offseason, but there are some warning signs.

Brach’s strikeout rate has gone from nearly 30% in 2016 to 26% in 2017 to 21% last year. He’s still been able to pitch decently well by avoiding home runs, but if those numbers tick up a bit, he moves closer to being a replacement-level reliever. He’s lost a little bit off his fastball in recent seasons, which might help to explain the lower strikeout totals, though his swinging strike rate has remained solid. The Cubs should be adding a solid reliever at a low cost next season. It looks like a couple poorly timed months around the trade deadline this season might have soured some on his ability, but he still turned in a decent season overall. He is a reliever, so he might be awful, but as far as relief signings go, there’s not a lot to dislike here.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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5 years ago

Smart move by the Cubs. As also reflected by the Dodgers’ signing of Pollock, teams are getting smarter and more analytical by the day.

5 years ago
Reply to  Johnston

I don’t want to derail this too much but I would put this in a very different category than the Dodgers’ signing of Pollock.

5 years ago
Reply to  Johnston

Not seeing the smart or analytical nature of the transaction. Are you implying that teams of yesteryear would not have signed Pollack and Brach due to lack of analytics and stupidity? Mark me down as skeptical.

5 years ago
Reply to  Johnston

I don’t think anyone from any modern era of baseball would dispute that Pollock and Brach should be in the Majors.

However, valuing Brach correctly is smart. Can you imagine if teams’ brain trust were still 90’s/00’s oriented? Three time defending executive of the year Dave Stewart would have signed Brach to a 4 year $28 million contract with a player option for 10 million. The move would have been universally praised, as he was able to add a veteran that knows how to get guys out and has proven that he can pitch the late innings and win the game.