Chicago Cubs: Will Justin Wilson bounce back in 2018?

Left-handed reliever Justin Wilson struggled during his time with the Chicago Cubs this season. The Cubs will need him to be better in 2018.

Prior to the non-waiver trade deadline of 2017, the Chicago Cubs acquired left-handed reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila from the Detroit Tigers. In return, the Tigers received prospects Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes.

At the time of the trade, Wilson had been dominating for the Tigers, posting a 2.68 ERA and a 12.27 K/9 across 40 1/3 frames. Wilson, took over the closer’s role for Detroit following the release of Francisco Rodriguez, had racked up 13 saves for the Tigers.

During Wilson’s time with the Cubs, the left-hander struggled to the tune of a 5.09 ERA and a 2.09 WHIP over 17.2 innings. He also posted an out-of-control walk rate of 9.68 for Chicago. He did, however, continue to rack up the strikeouts, posting a 12.74 K/9 for the North Siders this season. He was later left off of the Cubs NLCS roster.

Going into next season, Avila will be a free agent, but Wilson has another year of team control. Moreover, on the Tigers’ side, Candelario has already begun to show quite a bit of promise. Through 27 games, Candelario slashed .330/.406/.468 with a pair of homers for the Tigers. It remains to be seen how he will be able to perform over the course of a full season, but at this point, it would appear that the third base job is his to lose next season. Needless to say, the Cubs gave up a pretty good prospect to get Wilson. Paredes, who is still only 18, could have a bright future as well.

With Wade Davis entering free agency, Wilson’s role in the Cubs 2018 bullpen could become even more important. Of course, the Cubs could retain Davis, but he will be expensive. Carl Edwards Jr., who posted an impressive 2.98 ERA and 12.75 K/9 this past year, could be an option to replace Davis. However, Edwards also had a high 5.16 BB/9 this year, so his control may still be an issue. He also struggled in the NLDS before bouncing back in the NLCS, a series that the Cubs lost in five games to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Had Wilson continued to pitch the way that he had with the Tigers, he might also be a candidate to take over the closing duties next season. While that could still be a possibility, perhaps the Cubs may now feel more comfortable using him in a setup role.

Throughout his career, Wilson’s ERA has fluctuated between the low 2.00s and the low 4.00s. He had a 2.08 ERA for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013, before following that up with a 4.20 ERA in 2014. He then had a 3.10 ERA for the New York Yankees in 2015, but posted a 4.14 ERA during his first season with the Tigers. Obviously, this past season, Wilson was great in the first half, but tailed off after the trade to the Cubs.

That said, Wilson has been worth at least 1.1 fWAR in each of the past three seasons. Over the same time span, he has not posted a K/9 lower than 9.74 or a FIP higher than 3.38. Despite a relatively rough stretch over a small sample size with the Cubs this season, Wilson is still a very good reliever.

Heading into next season, there could also be an extra layer of motivation for Wilson, given that it will be his final year before reaching free agency. The Cubs will indeed need him to be better than he was this year, and his track record shows that he has the potential to do just that.