Cubs Re-Sign Brian Duensing for Two Years, $7 Million to Round Out Bullpen

It appears as though the Cubs are indeed content to roll with Brandon Morrow as the closer for 2018. While the concrete has yet to cure, they look to be pretty well set in the bullpen after an agreement to re-sign lefty Brian Duensing to a two-year, $7 million deal that FanRag’s Jon Heyman was first to report.

Duensing was nothing short of a revelation last season, posting a 2.74 ERA and 3.41 FIP (both well below his career averages) over 62.1 IP in 68 appearances. And he did it all for a paltry $2 million, which is an insane bargain for a man who may well have been the Cubs’ most consistent reliever in 2017. I’m not saying he was the best, mind you, but Joe Maddon knew what he was going to get each time Duensing took the mound.

We see clear evidence of that increased trust in Duensing’s usage last season, as illustrated by leverage index. CI’s Brendan Miller initially used the chart below to review Maddon’s faith in Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop, but a quick look shows us how Duensing worked himself into higher-leverage situations as the season wore on.

Note how the lefty began the season far below both Edwards and Strop and ended nearly equal to both. It’s hard to imagine Duensing getting many high-leverage innings in 2018 given the additions of Morrow and Steve Cishek and the (fingers crossed) resurgence of Justin Wilson, but that may actually be a good thing.

Having a solid lefty who’s able to handle lower-leverage spots with aplomb bridges the gap between a rotation that isn’t stacked with innings-eaters and a ‘pen stocked with flame-throwing strikeout artists. Duensing showed an ability to keep the ball on the ground and in the park last year, and he did so in an understated manner.

So understated, in fact, that the Cubs were able to retain him on a $3.5 million AAV deal that should offer excellent value. That discounted rate was actually as much about Duensing wanting to come back to Chicago, where he enjoyed the atmosphere in addition to his personal success on the mound.

Assuming they come to an agreement with Justin Grimm on an arbitration number, this gives the Cubs eight relievers heading into camp. Of course, that’s also assuming they sign another starter and keep Mike Montgomery in a relief role.

Additionally, it indicates that Dillon Maples will likely begin the season at AAA Iowa, where he’ll be asked to further dial in his fastball location and pitch sequencing. But the Cubs are very high on the young righty and he’s still got a bright future in Chicago if he maintains the growth we saw last year.

With full acknowledgement of the highly fickle nature of relievers, both individually and collectively, the Cubs have assembled quite a collection this winter. Already boasting five pitchers who could conceivably be called upon to close, Duensing helps to round things out toward the front end. So while a lot of people are probably shrugging their shoulders at this move, I find myself getting really excited about it.

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