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Five questions as Cubs sort out bullpen

@MLBastian
March 3, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- There is a considerable lack of competition in Cubs camp this spring. With the bulk of the roster unchanged, predicting the Opening Day roster is not complicated at the moment. The lone exception is the bullpen, which has one job up for grabs and a lot of

MESA, Ariz. -- There is a considerable lack of competition in Cubs camp this spring. With the bulk of the roster unchanged, predicting the Opening Day roster is not complicated at the moment. The lone exception is the bullpen, which has one job up for grabs and a lot of storylines surrounding that vacancy.

With a little more than three weeks left in Spring Training, here are five questions the Cubs must answer before finalizing their season-opening relief corps.

How does Tyler Chatwood fit into the picture?

Consider this the most important domino. The decision on Chatwood later in camp will have a direct impact on how the final pieces of the bullpen come together. There is no room in the rotation right now, but Chicago is stretching Chatwood out as a starter this spring. That gives the Cubs a layer of insurance for the starting staff in the event of injury. Or, perhaps that approach could lead to Chatwood being traded before Opening Day.

For now, both manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy have said they are encouraged by the mechanical adjustments made by Chatwood, who had 95 walks in 103 2/3 innings in 2018. If there is no trade and Chatwood is healthy, then the righty and his $12.5 million salary could wind up in the bullpen. Maddon said he is keeping an open mind about how Chatwood could be utilized.

Who will challenge for the eighth bullpen job?

As things stand, it looks like seven jobs are accounted for between Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr., Brad Brach, Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing and Brandon Kintzler. If Chatwood does not wind up in the bullpen picture, that would open the door for an offseason addition like Tony Barnette (on the 40-man roster) or maybe a non-roster invitee like George Kontos. There's always the high-ceiling, hard-throwing Dillon Maples, too.

Barnette, Kontos and Maples are right-handed, and the Cubs could benefit from having another lefty in the mix. That's where guys like Xavier Cedeño (signed to a Major League contract) or Randy Rosario (who opened some eyes in the Majors last year) factor into the equation. Cedeno is currently dealing with a left wrist issue that already has him behind the dozen-plus arms jockeying for position in this race.

What is Montgomery's status?

Montgomery was slowed by left shoulder stiffness early in camp, but the lefty is back on a mound and facing hitters. He is scheduled to throw in a simulated game on Monday and should make his Cactus League debut soon. Montgomery is preparing for a swingman role again, making him a next-man-up option for the rotation, along with Chatwood. There is still time to build Montgomery's innings up for multi-inning availability.

Can the Cubs trust Duensing and Kintzler?

Reading too much into Spring Training results is never wise, so it's important to rely on other information. For example, Kintzler (7.00 ERA in 25 games with Chicago last year) said he became too reliant on scouting reports after being traded to the Cubs and got away from his strengths. Duensing (7.65 ERA in 48 games in '18) says he is healthy, and others around the team have noted that his delivery looks more like the '17 version. That year, he had a 2.74 ERA in 68 games for the Cubs. Will spring optimism lead to regular-season reality? We'll see, but both relievers (earning a combined $8.5 million in '19) are positioned well to be included in the Opening Day bullpen.

Who's the closer until Brandon Morrow returns?

Maddon has noted multiple times that he does not intend to name a full-time closer in the first month, when Morrow will still be rehabbing a right elbow injury. The manager's reasoning falls in line with the growing trend around the game. While Strop likely will get the bulk of the save chances, Maddon does not want to limit him to the ninth inning. If a situation in the seventh or eighth warrants using Strop -- based on lineup segment, matchups, score, etc. -- then Maddon does not want to avoid using him. So, while Strop is the main closer, arms like Cishek, Brach, Edwards or Kintzler could wind up in save situations.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.