CHICAGO -- The Cubs will have all spring to sort through their options for a bullpen beset with question marks. On Friday, Chicago allowed right-hander Tony Barnette to throw his name into the ring.
Barnette and the Cubs agreed to a one-year contract worth $750,000 for the upcoming season, plus a $3 million club option for 2020. That deal comes after Chicago agreed to a one-year contract (plus a mutual option for '20) with righty Brad Brach last week, though that deal is pending a physical and not official yet.
Barnette and Brach provide the Cubs with additional depth for a relief corps that will potentially be without closer Brandon Morrow (right elbow surgery in November) for the season's first month. By adding two right-handed relievers to the mix, Chicago also created a bit more uncertainty about how Tyler Chatwood might fit into the 2019 pitching plans.
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If Yu Darvish is healthy and ready for Opening Day -- the starter has resumed throwing off a mound after being limited to eight outings last year due to a right elbow injury -- he will join a rotation that includes Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and José Quintana. Without any unforeseen setbacks to that group, lefty Mike Montgomery and Chatwood become the top two depth options for the starting staff.
Montgomery performed well as a swing man last year, posting a 3.99 ERA in 124 innings across 38 appearances (19 starts). Chatwood, who is set to earn $12.5 million in 2019, had a 5.30 ERA with a higher walk rate (19.6 percent) than strikeout rate (17.5 percent) in 103 2/3 innings last season. Chatwood could have a home in the bullpen, but Chicago will surely be monitoring his progress with his command during the spring.
Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek and Brach look like the only true locks for the Opening Day bullpen. Barnette would probably fall right behind that group, along with Montgomery, depending on what happens with the rotation. Brian Duensing (7.65 ERA in 37 2/3 innings in 2018) and Brandon Kintzler (4.60 ERA in 60 2/3 innings in '18) will be competing for jobs as well, following subpar showings last season.
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The Cubs will also have non-roster invitees with some MLB experience -- arms like George Kontos, Junichi Tazawa and Rob Scahill -- though that list of players has not been officially announced. On the 40-man roster, pitchers such as Randy Rosario, Kyle Ryan, James Norwood, Dillon Maples, Alec Mills and Duane Underwood Jr., among others, will be jockeying for position.
The 35-year-old Barnette has had an interesting career trajectory to this point.
A native of Alaska, Barnette was selected in the 10th round of the 2006 MLB Draft by the D-backs, but he left affiliated baseball to pitch for the Yakult Swallows in Japan from 2010-15. He spent the past three years with the Rangers, turning in a 3.50 ERA with 132 strikeouts and 43 walks in 144 innings. Last year, Barnette had a 2.39 ERA with 26 strikeouts and five walks in 26 1/3 innings, but a right shoulder issue ended his season in July.
Barnette -- who relies mostly on a four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter and curve -- generated 51.4 percent grounders last season. That was up from a 45.1 percent rate for his MLB career. The right-hander had reverse splits in '18 (.498 OPS against lefties and .631 OPS against righties), but has traditionally been better against righties (.652 OPS) than lefties (.780 OPS) in his career.
Left-hander Ian Clarkin also cleared waivers on Friday for the Cubs, who sent him outright to Triple-A Iowa. Clarkin, 23, was claimed twice from the White Sox by the Cubs this offseason. With the Barnette addition, the Cubs' 40-man roster currently sits at 39 players.