Hot Stove season is here, and NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at free agents who could fit the Cubs’ needs — and budget. Next up is White Sox closer Alex Colomé.
There’s no such thing as having too many reliable high-leverage bullpen arms, especially those capable of pitching the ninth inning.
This was especially true for the Cubs in 2020, when Jeremy Jeffress stepped up and pitched big innings as closer Craig Kimbrel worked through some early struggles and made mechanical adjustments.
Jeffress, a low-cost investment from last offseason, wound up leading the Cubs in saves, paired with a 1.54 ERA and 0.943 WHIP. And although Kimbrel bounced back from early August on, posting a 1.43 ERA over his final 14 outings (allowing no runs in 7 1/3 September innings), manager David Ross continued going with a closer-by-committee approach, in part due to Jeffress’ reliability.
Jeffress is now a free agent and a reunion could be in the cards, depending on what his market bears this winter as the Cubs trim payroll following a season of revenue losses. Along those same lines, White Sox free agent closer Alex Colomé could be a fit to beef up the Cubs’ bullpen, which was one of baseball's best down the stretch (2.93 ERA from Aug. 28 on).
Colomé, 32 in December, has been as steady as they come the past five seasons, converting 138 of his 156 save tries while sporting a 2.62 ERA and 1.107 WHIP. Some of his best work came the past two seasons on the South Side, where he converted 42 of 46 save chances to go along with a 2.27 ERA and 1.032 WHIP.
He was especially impressive this past season, allowing just two runs (both earned) in 22 1/3 innings (0.81 ERA) while going 12-for-13 in save opportunities. He did that despite holding a below average strikeout rate (6.4 per nine innings), thanks to a stellar 52.4 ground ball rate.
Colomé made $10.5 million last season, but we know this is a unique offseason following league-wide revenue losses due to the abbreviated COVID-19 season. For the sake of comparison, another good closer, Brad Hand, became a free agent last month after Cleveland bought out his $10.5 million 2021 option for $1 million — and no club picked Hand up on waivers.
That may say nothing about Colomé’s market and speak more to clubs not knowing what next season’s revenues will look like right now, therefore needing every dollar to count as they peruse the open market. But considering baseball’s current financial situation, maybe Colomé can be signed for a back-loaded, short multi-year deal.
Colomé will have offers to be a No. 1 closer, and the Cubs have an option for that role under contract for $16 million through next season in Kimbrel. They also have a payroll “range” for 2021, according to new president Jed Hoyer, and will be in the market for starting pitching depth.
But if they are unable to address that goal within their resources, boosting the bullpen could be an alternative. And even with Kimbrel under contract through 2021, adding another dependable late-inning closing option never hurts.