In the midst of loading and reloading one of baseball’s most storied franchises, the Chicago Cubs’ brass meticulously went about signing what may be their overall weapon out of the bullpen. He was signed by the Cubs in 2015 (after spending most of 2014 and 2015 in rehab from a second shoulder surgery) and impressed many naysayers and critics with his 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio during 23 appearances in 2015, including a 0.00 ERA in six appearances during the Cubs’ 2015 playoff run.
The man in question is 94 MPH “utility pitcher” Clayton Richard. Most baseball fans have heard of the “utility player” that’s generally a position guy who can play multiple positions at an above-average rate. As manager Joe Maddon told me yesterday, if there is such a thing as a utility pitcher, Richard is it.
“He’s a very strong human being,” Maddon said. “Very strong, good athlete. Played quarterback. Funky delivery. Gotten to know him a little bit last year and this year. He’s wonderful. The guy fits on any team as far as I’m concerned. And I don’t think there’s any left-handed hitters in the major leagues that says, ‘Oh good, Clayton Richard is coming into the game.’ To me Clayton is the guy who’s gonna get the ball put in play, and put in play on the ground.”
“Travis Wood can get the ball in play, but that’s in the air. I’m not trying to go too nuts, but with the ball blowing out at Wrigley, Clayton is the guy to put the ball on the ground. It’s nice to have an option like Wood and Clayton. He can come in early or late in any situation and I’m comfortable with that.”
Maddon also mentioned that he’s not a big proponent of assigning guys to a particular inning and would rather rely on the course of that particular game to determine who is used and when. For the 2015 National League Manager of the Year, it’s nice knowing that there’s a dependable guy like Richard in the ‘pen who can come in at any time for any amount of time and be effective every time.
A manager’s trust can be hard to come by at times, but Richard? He’s got Maddon’s trust locked up, and spring training isn’t even half over. Every bullpen needs a solid, dependable innings-eater, and that’s exactly what Clayton Richard will be in 2016.