Cubs' bullpen should be even stronger this year
When a team loses 101 games, it's hard to call any part of that team a "strength."
But the Cubs did have some good moments from their bullpen in 2012, and relief pitching looks to be strengthened for this year with the signing of Japanese right-hander Kyuji Fujikawa.
We'll save closer Carlos Marmol for our next segment, but Marmol was a contributor with 19 consecutive save chances converted, from May 2-Sept. 14.
There were other accomplishments:
• Right-hander Shawn Camp, picked up as a minor-league free agent last year in spring training, wound up tying for the major-league lead in appearances, with 80. He also led Cubs relievers with 131⁄3 consecutive scoreless innings and 18 holds.
• James Russell established himself as one of the top left-handed relievers in the game. He led qualifying Cubs relievers in ERA (3.25) while making a career-high 77 appearances.
The Cubs this year come back with Marmol as their closer, until and unless he is traded. Camp re-signed as a free agent, and Russell was rewarded with a nice new contract.
Fujikawa should take a lot of the pressure -- not to mention innings workload -- off Camp and Russell late in games.
At 32 years old, Fujikawa was an interesting signing by the Cubs, who had talked of signing free agents on "the right side" of 30. But age was not a primary factor in this signing.
"His durability certainly was," said general manager Jed Hoyer. "He's been really durable over there, some small injuries. But if you look at his track record, he's taken the ball every year. He's pitched in a lot of games.
"We're not always going to be able to stay on the right side of 30 on free agency. It's not realistic. So few guys make it to free agency in their 20s. The guys that do are always the bidding-war guys for the most part. It's a goal. He's 32. That's not far past (30). It's a goal, but it's not always going to be achieved."
For Hanshin last year, Fujikawa was 2-2 with a 1.32 ERA and a WHIP of 1.03 (his career WHIP is 0.96), having given up 34 hits and 15 walks in 472⁄3 innings pitched. Fujikawa also struck out 58.
There's no doubt the Cubs would love to trade Marmol -- a deal with the Angels last fall fell through -- and if they're successful, Fujikawa would step in as closer, having saved 24 last year and 219 for his career in Japan.
As for the rest of the pen, the Cubs have some live young arms in Alberto Cabrera and Rafael Dolis, both of whom got major-league experience last year.
The Cubs claimed right-hander Hector Rondon in the Rule 5 draft from the Cleveland organization. He'll get a long look in spring training.
The starting rotation always affects the bullpen. Injury concerns to Matt Garza and Scott Baker have moved Travis Wood and Carlos Villanueva into the rotation. With lefty Wood starting, the Cubs might be looking for another left-hander in the pen. Chris Rusin, who started seven games as a starter last year, could get that role.
Michael Bowden, a graduate of Waubonsie Valley High School and a resident of Oswego, had a 1.33 ERA in the second half last year and enjoyed a good winter-ball season. He could grab as spot from the right side as could nonroster man Jaye Chapman, obtained from Atlanta last July in the trade that sent Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to Atlanta.