With the 2020 trade deadline quickly approaching, we’re beginning to see rumors aplenty. The tenor of this wonky season has taken shape, allowing speculative deadline moves across the MLB landscape to have merit.
For the Cubs, next Monday’s trade deadline will only see moves that are ancillary in nature, if they make any moves whatsoever. While the team’s needs are known (bullpen help, bullpen help, bullpen help, and a complimentary right-handed bat), budget constraints and a continued pandemic complicate the team’s ability to make impactful moves.
Theo has made clear his thought process with regard to the deadline, both from the standpoint of team needs as well as the effects of trades on players and their families. Because of these factors, and because we know Theo to generally be both empathetic and nuanced, we should consider the possibility the Cubs stand pat at the deadline.
That said, the Cubs have potential answers internally, especially for the ‘pen. One of those answers can be found in this year’s second-round pick, Burl Carraway.
Before the Cubs make a deadline deal for a lefty, why not see what they have in their young, electric reliever?
Burl Carraway is Just What the ‘Pen Needs
Currently, the Cubs’ bullpen is one of the worst in the majors. A 5.42 ERA (5.53 FIP), league-high 13.3 percent walk rate, and near league-worst hard contact rate (46.0 percent) paints quite an ugly picture. Worsening matters still, the Cubs ‘pen has been atrocious against lefty hitters, yielding a .429 slugging percentage and nine home runs (a league-worst 21.4 HR/FB ratio), 28 walks, and seven hit batters. Those numbers have stockpiled in just 45.2 innings against lefties, and simply can not continue for a first place team with a legitimate chance at a deep playoff run.
That Kyle Ryan is the only current lefty reliever on the active roster is bad enough. To make matters worse, he’s followed up his sturdy 2019 campaign (3.54 ERA in 61 innings) with an abysmal start to 2020. A 7.04 ERA is alarming enough, with a considerable amount of concern revolving around Ryan’s decreased velocity. Never a flamethrower, his typical 89 mph heater has dropped a couple ticks this season, and he’s clearly lost his effectiveness as a result.
Carraway would provide the Cubs with an immediate shot in the arm, and should they call him up ahead of the deadline they’d allow themselves time to assess the rookie before deciding on any potential trade. Burl can pitch in a variety of relief roles, with a multi-inning presence that can get batters out from both sides of the plate.
With a fastball that touches the upper 90’s, a hammer curve in the mid 70’s, and a deceptive delivery, draft experts concluded he’d be the first player from the 2020 draft to reach the majors. Post draft I spoke with Josh Hopper, Dallas Baptist University’s pitching coach, and he echoes the sentiment that Carraway can make an immediate impact. The Andrew Miller comparison is widespread with Carraway, and while that might feel like a high bar, it’s set because he is simply that talented. And according to Coach Hopper, Burl pitches with a chip on his shoulder — an attitude and demeanor that could absolutely revive the ‘pen.
Of course, it’s hard to know how Burl has performed at the alternate site in South Bend, but as far as internal options go, it’s a risk the Cubs should be happy to make. A call up of the potential rookie would require opening up a spot on the 40-man roster, but there are enough players on the periphery that would make such a move relatively easy.
Manager David Ross has proven adept at handling a shaky ‘pen, maneuvering Kimbrel appropriately, assessing which middle relievers are effective despite constantly changing parts, and proving decisive with regard to pulling starters at appropriate times. Providing him with a young arm in Carraway not only gives him a potentially elite weapon, it’d be putting a highly touted prospect in the hands of a manager that, while a rookie himself, has already shown unteachable wisdom in handling pitchers.
This all comes with a major caveat, as Patrick Mooney of The Athletic wrote the following on Saturday:
The Cubs do not view Brailyn Marquez and Burl Carraway as realistic options to help the major-league team this season. Marquez is 21 years old and has never pitched above the A-ball level. Carraway is 21 years old and threw 51 1/3 innings across three seasons at Dallas Baptist University before getting drafted two months ago. The Cubs have been patient with those talented lefties at the South Bend training site, focusing on player development and their long-term growth as pitchers instead of letting them loose.
Whatever inside source Mooney received this information from, the authority of the information is real. Things evolve, however, especially in a pandemic shortened season with an impossible-to-decipher trade deadline. Should the Cubs not find themselves a suitable trade partner, or, if they do and that newly acquired lefty doesn’t pan out, they might find themselves with little option but to test their high-ceiling draft pick.
The Cubs ‘Pen Will Determine the Season’s Fate
We’re relatively certain the Cubs will make the playoffs. How far they go, however, will be shaped by the effectiveness of the bullpen, and as of now that would likely mean an early exit in October. With a rotation that has come back down to earth (save for Yu Darvish), reinforcements for the ‘pen are an absolute need.
Even though Craig Kimbrel‘s recent performance has been encouraging, Jeremy Jeffress‘ presence has stabilized the back end, and Rowan Wick has been dominant (aside from Saturday’s performance), the Cubs can’t sit on their hands with this unit. Certainly they’ll be casting a wide net as the trade deadline approaches, veteran righty Trevor Rosenthal an intriguing name among the rumors. And, importantly, the impending return of both Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood should re-stabilize the rotation and ‘pen alike while adding another lefty to the roster.
None of that will be enough, however. If the Cubs wish to take advantage of the hot start to the season and make a serious run at another Championship, they need a dominant left-handed piece out of the ‘pen.
I’m willing to bet Burl Carraway is up for the challenge.
All stats courtesy of Fangraphs
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