Should the Cubs Get in on Smoltz or Wagner?
I haven't heard a word tying the Cubs to either player, but it seems like the Cubs could still use some help in the bullpen. As I mentioned Friday, Carlos Marmol's walk rate north of 8 per nine innings is historic....but not in a good way. Kevin Gregg is a perfectly capable and perfectly hittable closer. He'll get the job done more times than not, but so did Ryan Dempster, and I wouldn't want either closing out the 9th inning in a playoff game. I can't think of too many World Series champs that didn't have a shut-down closer, I know there are some (2001 Diamondbacks for example), but it seems far more often than not, that a team needs a relief ace back there. Even BP put it into their "Secret Sauce" recipe for predicting playoff success. That's not to say the Cubs can't win it all with Marmol and Gregg in the 8th and 9th, but those two don't particularly make me confident.
That leaves the Cubs with two potential upgrades, although they're hardly sure-things either. The New York Mets may possibly shop Billy Wagner, just about a year after his surgery. He's struck out 5 in 4 innings of rehab work so far and reports were that he was hitting up to 94 mph on his fastball. He's owed the remainder of his $10.5M 2009 contract (about $3M for the rest of the year depending on when a trade would happen) and has an $8M club option with a $1M buyout for 2010. The Mets would likely have to kick in some money to move Wagner if they wanted any decent type of return in players. According to the reverse-engineered Elias rankings, he would be a Type A free agent in the offseason, which is actually probably a bad thing. Considering his recent salary and Type A ranking, he'd probably do pretty good in an arbitration hearing despite missing most of 2009 and most teams seem to be avoiding Type A free agents and coughing up a draft pick except for the sure-fire superstars.
Now guys coming off Tommy John surgery usually don't have problems with their velocity, but rather their control and it's been my rather informal observation that the control doesn't come back for another 3-6 months after they're deemed fit to pitch in the big leagues. He hasn't walked a batter yet in the low levels, but that doesn't really tell the story. Any team that does take a chance on Wagner will want to see him against some better talent and probably a few games in the majors.
The other possibility is John Smoltz who was recently DFA'd by the Boston Red Sox after putting up an 8.32 ERA as a starter for them. It's not hard where to pinpoint his problem with a .649 OPS against versus righties and 1.248 versus lefties. A link via MLBTR says several NL teams and the Texas Rangers are interested in him, but they would all probably want some of his contract restructured or the Red Sox to kick in some money or possibly both. He's owed up to $5.5M this year based on days on the active roster and some award bonuses along with $500K for being traded. The Red Sox of course want him to accept a minor league assignment and transition to their own bullpen, so I'm not sure why Smoltz would find the Cubs situation anymore appealing other than he may possibly get a chance at the closer job that he wouldn't get in Boston. And that chance is nothing more than my own speculation.
Two interesting names out there, but they come with their own risks and pitfalls...sort of like the Cubs bullpen as it's currently constructed does. I'd probably prefer Wagner over Smoltz right now at the moment. With B.J. Ryan not working out, the Cubs could probably use another lefty. And if he does show some of that pre-surgery magic, there's the longshot that he could take over 9th inning duties.