When you fill out a list of strengths through the first 27 games, bullpen should be at the top of the list for the Chicago Cubs. Brandon Morrow has settled nicely into the closer’s role, and set-up/mid-relief spots have been locked down by flamethrowers like Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek and the revitalized Justin Wilson.
Aside from Mike Montgomery, Eddie Butler merged as a valuable weapon as a long and middle reliever in the first few weeks of the season. Unfortunately, Butler landed on the 10-day disabled list April 20 with a groin injury, allowing Luke Farrell to get some time out of the pen.
And Farrell hasn’t disappointed.
The 26-year-old is the son of former Red Sox manager John Farrell, and his brothers both work in the Cubs’ organization. His baseball career was in jeopardy after dealing with two separate neck tumors over a two-year span.
Farrell battled back to become a standout at Northwestern and made his debut last year with the Royals. He was claimed off waivers late in the season twice by the Reds and Cubs.
Farrell has been impressive in three outings since being called up, but his performance Monday night against the Rockies certainly was noteworthy. The right-hander entered a high-leverage situation with two on and two out in the bottom of the fifth inning and managed to escape the inning by forcing Ian Desmond to groundout. He then returned in the sixth inning to strike out two of three batters.
Sure, the sample size is too small to draw any long-term conclusions. When has 3.1 innings of total work ever defined a guy’s role for the season? What gets Joe Maddon and the front office fired up is the repertoire. His four-speed fastball has plenty of spin, and he complements it with an equally nasty slider. Any middle reliever would kill to have that combo.
You would love to see what he can do when pressed into more high-pressure situations, but Butler should be coming off the DL relatively soon.
So what should the Cubs do? Rush Butler back, or keep Farrell around a bit longer?
Make no mistake. This isn’t about choosing one over the other for the rest of the season. It’s about getting Farrell more chances. Butler is out of options, and putting him on waivers risks the chance of him being claimed by another team. His early-season performance certainly would help draw interest from many ballclubs.
Butler’s 4.30 ERA in 14.2 innings is deceiving due to a rough outing before going on the DL. Prior to that, he posted a healthier 2.45 ERA in five appearances, which included a stellar seven innings of relief during a 17-inning loss to the Marlins in March.
The dilemma facing the Cubs is WHEN to bring back Butler. The Cubs can be creative by sending Butler on a longer rehab assignment than originally anticipated, allowing them to get an extended look at what Farrell can bring to the bullpen this season and beyond. You never know when he might be called upon to replace an ailing arm later in the year.
If Farrell is too erratic in the coming weeks or if injuries require an arm in long relief and spot starts, they can always end Butler’s rehab assignment and send Farrell back down to Triple-A Iowa.
The Cubs bullpen situation isn’t dire at the moment, so the decision shouldn’t cause any blowback. Still, it’s an interesting dilemma to face when Butler is healthy.