“It’s not easy, but I also know it’s a business and this is the way it goes,” Strop said Friday regarding their departures. “And hopefully not, but one time it’s going to be me. I wish to retire here when I’m done playing. It’s a business. If it happens, it happens.”
The Cubs were all business regarding the retooling of a well-worked bullpen that includes the additions of closer Brandon Morrow and sidearmer Steve Cishek and had created an opening for Brandon Hancock, Eddie Butler, Anthony Bass or left-hander Randy Rosario after Thursday’s release of Grimm, who had been a member of the last three playoff teams.
“(Our bullpen can be as good as anyone’s,” Strop said. “If you look at the 30 teams and see the teams with the best bullpens, you have to include the Cubs. If we stay healthy, it’s going to be huge for us.”
Health has played a major factor in the preparation of the returnees. Strop has appeared in 65 or more games in three of the last four seasons, but he has yet to pitch this spring because of a left calf injury and flu-like symptoms.
The Cubs are looking closely at other candidates although they expect left-hander Justin Wilson (finger blister) and Strop to be ready for the March 29 opener against the Dolphins in Miami.
The Cubs have been mindful about grooming their relievers gradually, from Morrow (who pitched in all seven games of the 2017 World Series with the Dodgers) to Carl Edwards Jr., who made 73 appearances in his first full major-league season last year.
“I feel much better, with more energy and more relaxed,” said Edwards, who has struck out six and allowed only two hits in five innings this spring. “There was so much going on after (2016). We barely had a chance to take a break. I had enough time off this offseason to get my body back to normal and start feeling normal.”
Butler, who made 11 starts for the Cubs in 2017, will start Saturday’s split-squad game against the Indians at Sloan Park. Maddon, who is leaning toward carrying another long reliever to complement left-hander Mike Montgomery, will stay in Mesa to watch Butler rather than go to Las Vegas.
“Eddie definitely fits into that mold,” Maddon said. “There are days off, but you’re in protect mode, too. We’re going to have more than one guy who can do that.”
Butler is out of minor-league options, so the Cubs would have to carry him or risk losing him to waivers.
Carrying a second long reliever virtually assures the Cubs would carry 13 pitchers to open the season.
In the past two seasons, the Cubs have acquired closer Aroldis Chapman and Wilson in deadline deals in an effort to solidify their bullpen. Maddon described the potential of his current crew as “outstanding,” but their usage and performance in the first half could dictate how aggressive the team is at midseason.
The Cubs needed bullpen reinforcements after throwing 559 innings in 2017 — 88 1/3 more than 2016.
“To try to describe how good of a bullpen we have, I don’t think anyone is afraid of shutting those doors,” Strop said. “I’m pretty sure we have a set closer. But the way I said it, it describes how good of a bullpen we have.”