Chicago Cubs: Pennant Race Roster Moves the Team Should Consider

The passing of the non-waiver trade deadline doesn't mean a contender like the Chicago Cubs is finished tweaking the active roster for the stretch run.

Whether it's an August waiver trade to add one final outside piece or a September call-up to provide some in-house help, there's plenty of work left to be done.

With our focus turned to those two potential areas for roster movement, let's take a closer look at what the Cubs might do the rest of the way.


Potential August Waiver-Trade Targets

Nothing derails a late-season push toward the postseason like a shaky bullpen, and calling the Cubs relief corps "shaky" this month doesn't quite do it justice.

In eight August games, the pen has posted a 5.25 ERA and 1.42 WHIP with two losses and two blown saves over 24 innings of work.

That makes further bullpen reinforcements an obvious August target, and Drew Storen of the Cincinnati Reds should be the team's No. 1 priority.

The 29-year-old has pitched to a 3.33 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 8.0 K/9 over 48 appearances after joining the rebuilding Reds on a one-year, $3 million deal in the offseason.

He's not the same power pitcher he was a few years back when he saved 29 games and tallied 11.0 K/9 as the Washington Nationals closer, but he's learned to be effective with lesser stuff.

His fastball velocity sat at 94.7 mph as recently as 2015, but that's down to 91.2 mph this season, and he's become more reliant on his sinker and slider as a result.

While that's meant fewer strikeouts, his groundball rate has climbed to an impressive 51.9 percent this season—a trend that would play well in front of the Cubs' talented infield defense.

Here's a quick look at some other relievers who could be available this month, courtesy of a list of waiver-trade candidates compiled by Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors.

 Player Stats  '18 Contract
imgMatt Belisle 46 G, 4.43 ERA  FA
imgSantiago Casilla 45 G, 4.07 ERA $6M
imgTyler Clippard 49 G, 4.43 ERA FA
imgJim Johnson 47 G, 3.94 ERA $5M
imgBud Norris 47 G, 4.09 ERA FA
imgYusmeiro Petit 39 G, 2.51 ERA FA
imgBrad Ziegler 37 G, 5.91 ERA $9M

Keep an eye on Matt Belisle among that group.

Since struggling to an 8.66 ERA over the season's first two months, he's been lights out with a 1.67 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 25 appearances. In fact, he hasn't allowed an earned run since June 24 and recently took over closer duties in Minnesota.

The 37-year-old would be a cheap addition as well with what's left of a $2.05 million salary, and his impending free agency should make the Twins amenable to a deal.

Beyond bolstering the bullpen, the only other potential need would be more starting pitching depth.

While Mike Montgomery has pitched well when called upon as a starter this year, ideally he'd be available out of the bullpen the rest of the way.

With that in mind, adding a capable spot starter could make sense.

San Diego Padres teammates Jhoulys Chacin (23 GS, 11-8, 4.15 ERA) and Clayton Richard (23 GS, 5-12, 5.17 ERA) are two low-cost targets worth considering.

Both players signed one-year, $1.75 million deals in the offseason and both have contributed in a long relief capacity in past seasons, so they wouldn't be out of place waiting in the wings in the bullpen.

Marco Estrada comes at a steeper price with the remainder of a $14.5 million salary, but he's looked terrific of late with a 2.84 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in his last three starts, and he's done his usual stellar work inducing soft contact (20.5 percent, 21st in MLB).

His price tag probably makes him more of a reactionary target than a potential preventative addition. In other words, a trade for Estrada would likely only happen as a result of a starter going down with a significant injury.

The rest of the starting pitching market is fairly weak and recalling Eddie Butler from Triple-A looks like a better option than going after guys like Derek Holland and Ricky Nolasco.

So look for the Cubs to target bullpen help and potential rotation depth if they pull the trigger on an August trade. But what about potential in-house help?


Potential September Call-Ups

There will be some obvious promotions when rosters expand in September.

Catcher Victor Caratini will return to give the team a third backstop and outfielder Mark Zagunis—who has an .867 OPS with 21 doubles and 13 home runs in Triple-Awill likely be back as well after getting a seven-game cup of coffee earlier this year.

Meanwhile, starter Eddie Butler and relievers Justin GrimmJack Leathersich, Rob Zastryzny, Felix Pena, Pierce Johnson and Seth Frankoff have all seen time in the majors this year and are on the 40-man roster, so they figure to be in the mix for some mop-up innings at the very least.

Outfielder John Andreoli could also get a look as a pinch-runner, despite not being on the 40-man roster, as he's swiped 220 bases in his minor league career. The 27-year-old has also posted a solid .789 OPS with 38 extra-base hits in his third go-round with Triple-A Iowa, though the outfield logjam won't afford him many opportunities.

No one from that group really stands out as a potential X-factor, though.

If there's one player suiting up down on the farm who could make a true impact down the stretch, it might be right-hander Dillon Maples.

I wrote about the intriguing right-hander earlier this week:

"The Cubs signed Dillon Maples to a $2.5 million bonus as a 14th-round pick in 2011—still the largest bonus ever given to a player selected after the third round.

"Control problems and some minor arm issues kept him from advancing beyond the High-A level in his first five pro seasons, but he's taken off this year and could be a legitimate X-factor down the stretch.

"Still just 25, he's posted a 2.57 ERA and .198 opponents' batting average with 91 strikeouts in 56 innings while reaching Triple-A. He's still walking batters at a 4.8 BB/9 clip, but his stuff is electric with a fastball that touches triple digits, a wipeout slider and a nasty power curve."

Manager Joe Maddon leaned hard on rookie Carl Edwards Jr. down the stretch last season with Hector Rondon nursing an injury and the rest of the relief corps struggling to bridge the gap to Aroldis Chapman.

If Maples earns a promotion and dominates big league hitters as an unknown commodity, he could carve out a similarly important role in this year's pen.

There's little doubt the Cubs are the most talented team in the NL Central if they play up to their potential, and they don't necessarily need to add anything to the current roster to walk away with another division title.

However, that doesn't mean some outside help wouldn't be welcomed with open arms, whether it's in the form of another trade addition or a minor league promotion, so keep an eye on the transaction wire in the weeks to come.


All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball, unless otherwise noted.

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