Zach Britton has been one of the Cubs’ primary pitching targets for a while now, but the same can be said of several other teams. And with a collection of contenders vying to land him, it’s entirely possible he ends this year pitching somewhere other than Wrigley Field. Another wish list reliever, Brad Hand, has already been dealt to the Indians, so where might the Cubs turn if they do miss on Britton?
According to The Athletic’s Patrick Mooney (subscription required), the Cubs might very well remain engaged with Baltimore. And for a guy named Brad, no less. That would be 32-year-old righty Brad Brach, a name you might be familiar with from his All-Star turn in 2016. As Mooney’s source suggested to him, Brach could be a “potential fallback option” for the Cubs.
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He’d certainly come a lot cheaper than Britton and would represent a move befitting the “more targeted, more selective, and a little more opportunistic” strategy Theo Epstein discussed last week. Brach’s age, low salary (~ $2 million remaining on $5.2 million for final arbitration year), and impending free agency blunt his trade value, though perhaps not as much as his 4.97 ERA and deterioration of both his fastball velocity and K/BB ratio.
Despite the rough numbers in his rapidly rising BB/9 rate (2.85, 3.44, 4.26 from 2016-18), there is reason to believe Brach could muster his remaining resources for some big improvement down the stretch. His .367 BABIP this season is 85 points above his career average, suggesting some poor luck. That’s lent credence by a 44.7 percent grounder rate that’s about 4 percent higher than his career mark and a 27.4 percent soft-contact percentage that’s nearly 6 percent better than his cumulative number.
Not only does his FIP tell us that his ERA is inflated by about a run, but common sense does as well. Perhaps getting out of Baltimore and having something to play for, not to mention a better defense behind him, would bring those numbers down. Time alone should see more of those soft grounders converted to outs. It’s even possible that the Cubs could hone in on some mechanical issues that are leading to the erosion in effectiveness of his two main pitches, the fastball and changeup.
Those increasing walk numbers are definitely an issue and run contrary to the Cubs’ oft-stated goal of filling the bullpen with proven strike-throwers, so there’s that. Unless they’ve spotted something and believe that a tweak here or there could improve his control.
While Brach wouldn’t be a sexy pickup by any stretch, he could still have enough in the tank to give the Cubs solid innings over the last two months. No stranger to heavy usage, he’s made at least 62 appearances in each of the last three seasons and is on pace for 67 this season. While there’s an argument to be made that being deployed as such has been deleterious to his production, perhaps sharing the load more equitably on a better team would do him well.
One final note on the Cubs’ possible interest is that Brach was a member of the Padres organization and was even named their minor league pitcher of the year in 2010, which fell during Jed Hoyer’s tenure in San Diego. And we know how the Cubs brass loves to re-acquire players they’ve traded away.
This is of course all hypothetical and I’ve painted a sunshine-and-rainbows picture of what Brach could be. There’s also a chance that he is irretrievably beyond his prime and will continue to walk people at a high rate. If nothing else, this type of move is becoming more realistic than Britton by the hour. Only another week at most before we find out for sure.