Cubs pitcher Brad Brach adds more fuel to baseball's free-agency conspiracy theory


MESA, Ariz. — Brad Brach wouldn't go so far as to use the word "collusion," but he had some very interesting comments about the current state of Major League Baseball's free agency process.

The veteran reliever signed a one-year deal with the Cubs last month with an option for a second season. It was his first foray into free agency and his experience was a microcosm of what's wrong with the system right now from the players' perspective.

"It was stressful and it kinda dragged on forever," Brach said Friday morning at Cubs camp. "You hear about interest in the first week and then you don't get offers until late December, January and you're just kinda wondering what's going on. Teams say they like you, but they're not making you any offers. Then you finally get offers and 6 or 7 teams are giving you the same offer.

"It's just a weird process and nobody really knows what's going on right now. Obviously I would've liked the experience to have been a little better. I'm just glad to be here now and glad it's over with for at least this year and hope to pitch well enough to be here again next year."

Brach may not be a household name to casual baseball fans, but he was one of the top bullpen arms available on the open market after the 2018 season. MLB Trade Rumors ranked him No. 41 on their list of the Top 50 free agents, ahead of former Cubs relievers Jesse Chavez and Justin Wilson, among others.

The 32-year-old has been a reliable big-league reliever for the last 7 seasons, sporting a 3.05 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 9.4 K/9 over 415 appearances in that span while racking up 33 saves and 85 holds. He made the All-Star team in 2016 and finished with a 2.05 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 79 innings with the Orioles that season.

He struggled to begin last year (4.85 ERA) with the last-place Orioles, but was rejuvenated by a midseason trade to the contending Braves (1.52 ERA) and headed into free agency with some momentum.

Relievers are in high demand on the open market right now with so much importance on the bullpen (especially in October), but Brach only got a reported $4.35 million and one year guaranteed from the Cubs. Meanwhile, a host of other relievers with quality big-league resumes are forced to take minor-league deals as MLB teams continue their free agency freeze-out.

"I really don't know [what to make of the state of free agency]," Brach said. "We talked to certain teams and they told us, 'We have an algorithm and here's where you fall in that scale.' It's just kinda weird that all offers are the same that come around the same time and everybody tells you there's an algorithm, but you figure teams have different ones, but I don't know.

"It's definitely a weird process and you can't figure it out. Luckily, the guys in the bullpen have been the ones that haven't been hurt as bad. I think if you're at the top of the class, it's fine, but if you're somewhere in the middle, you're gonna get hurt and that's where they're kinda taking advantage of us."

It wasn't like Brach was throwing a pity party or anything when he met with Chicago media for the first time Friday morning. He seemed genuinely pumped up to be a part of the Cubs bullpen and was hooked from the first sentence out of Joe Maddon's mouth during a team meeting the other day, talking about how the goal is to play — and win — the final game of the season.

The 2018 Orioles put together one of the most miserable seasons in recent MLB history (115 losses) and Brach felt the effects as a reliever typically used to working in high-leverage situations.

He made a minor mechanical adjustment but for the most part, he believes the reason he was better with the Braves down the stretch was simply jumping more than 40 games in the standings — going from a last-place rebuilding team to a young squad ticketed for the playoffs.

"It gives you a little kick in the butt and gets you back into winning baseball, which — especially in the bullpen — you want to be a part of," Brach said. "When you're losing so many games, it ends up turning into kind of a spring training where, 'You haven't pitched in 3 or 4 days and we need you to get some work.'

"I just never really excel in those roles. Coming here, knowing that you're expecting to win from Day 1, it's exciting and I'm looking forward to it."

Brach doesn't know what his exact role will be in the Cubs bullpen, but he said he's ready to handle whatever — from filling in for injured closer Brandon Morrow to setting up for teammates like Pedro Strop or Steve Cishek or even pitching in the middle innings if needed.

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