Last in a 5-part series looking at the Cubs’ key offseason acquisitions and how they will fit into the team’s 2016 picture
By Randy Richardson
If Ben Zobrist is the Cubs’ new “super utility player,” then Adam Warren might just be his pitching counterpart.
No manager loves playing chess with his players more than the Cubs’ Joe Maddon. Last season saw third baseman Kris Bryant play all three outfield positions, catcher Kyle Schwarber in left field, and shortstop Starlin Castro moved over to second base.
It’s no secret that Maddon covets versatility in his players, and that explains why he’s so jacked about being reunited with Zobrist, one of his favorites from his days with the Rays, because Zobrist can play outfield just as well as he can play infield.
There’s a strong sense that there’s a move afoot to try something similar with some of the Cubs’ pitchers. Last season we saw a little of it with Travis Wood, Clayton Richard and Trevor Cahill, pitchers that moved easily from long relief to starting roles as needed.
Add Warren into the mix, and things get really intriguing. Last season, the 28-year-old righty, obtained from the Yankees in the trade that sent Castro to the Bronx, served as the Yanks’ “super-utility pitcher,” giving the team reliable pitching both as a reliever and a starter.
Pinstripe Alley’s Scott Davis wrote that “Warren took the challenge of having no established role and ran with it, posting a 2.2 fWAR, a 3.59 FIP, and holding the rotation together while many other starters struggled with injuries.”
Now Warren moves to the Cubs where he will seemingly pair with Cahill, the other right-handed long reliever to go with the two lefties, Wood and Richard. The Cubs seem well-armed for the long war that is the baseball season.
Don’t think baseball analysts haven’t noticed what seems to be going on. Baseball Prospectus has already dubbed the foursome “The Four Swingmen of the Cub-Pocalypse.”
And Bleacher Nation’s Luis Medina posited that perhaps Maddon “is the manager who is imaginative enough to not just bring back the swingman, but re-purpose him for the modern game.”
Of Warren, Medina writes that he “fits as the kind of player who could thrive in this environment” as a pitcher who “has the skills to get outs despite not fitting the prototype for a lights-out late-inning reliever or a top-flight starting pitcher.”
The projections seem to support this theory. According to ZiPS, Warren projects as a reliever to go 5-2 with a 2.64 and 1.4 WAR in 2016, and as a starter to go 12-7 with a 3.03 ERA and a 3.7 WAR. Not too shabby on either end.
Outside Pitch MLB’s Hunter Noll writes that Warren’s “ability to start, come in for relief, or even close out games, immediately makes him one of the most important pieces to the Cubs possible championship run.”
For such an important piece of the Cubs’ puzzle, Warren comes at a relatively cheap price: $1.7 million for 2016. And he’s under club control through 2018.
His value will certainly skyrocket if he is able to help the Cubs win the World Series title that has eluded them since 1908.
“Absolutely, it would be special to win one here,” Warren said during January’s Cubs Convention. “I was asked the question if I’d dreamed about it and I said: ‘I wouldn’t be human if I hadn’t.’”
Randy Richardson is the author of the Wrigleyville murder mystery, Lost in the Ivy, and a regular contributor to Wrigleyville Nation.