Cubs

Cubs betting Rafael Soriano will strengthen their bullpen

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Cubs betting Rafael Soriano will strengthen their bullpen

DETROIT – The Cubs will be adding a big-name reliever to a bullpen operating without a set closer: Rafael Soriano.

The Cubs finalized a minor-league deal with Soriano on Tuesday, structuring it with a prorated $4.1 million base salary and $4 million in incentives. So if the 35-year-old right-hander comes up for half the season – a realistic timeline – then he would make roughly $2 million guaranteed.

The Cubs hope they will be getting the lights-out pitcher who put up a 0.97 ERA for the Washington Nationals in the first half of last season, not the one who lost the closer’s job and had a 6.48 ERA after the All-Star break.  

“I have no idea what he’s going to look like,” manager Joe Maddon said before a 6-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. “He’s down in the Dominican and has to go through some paperwork to get out of there. I think once he gets up here, we’ll have a better understanding.”

Soriano earned his only All-Star selection while pitching for Maddon on the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays, posting a 1.73 ERA and saving 45 games for the American League East champs.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Despite fading down the stretch, Soriano still finished with 32 saves last year. He’s pitched in five postseason series with the Rays, Nationals and New York Yankees, where he filled in for – and worked alongside – the legendary Mariano Rivera.

Soriano is coming off a two-year, $28 million contract delivered by super-agent Scott Boras. Soriano apparently grew frustrated with the waiting, recently dropping Boras and switching to Octagon Baseball, which has a Chicago office, several Cubs as clients and a managing director, Alan Nero, who represents Maddon.

“He really knows how to pitch,” Maddon said. “I would like to believe that he would be able to impart his pitching wisdom on a lot of those guys on how to pitch hitters, and how to pick your poison.

[WATCH: What can Soriano bring to bullpen?]

“Oftentimes, after a game, the next day, he and I would talk about the hitters he had faced, and he’d tell me what he was thinking going into the game. I was always impressed with what he saw from the bullpen.

“So beyond his ability to help us pitch and win games, he’s really good at observing and knowing what to do versus hitters. And I’d like to believe that’s going to be part of his value.”

Maddon likes to get creative with the bullpen and not do everything by the book. The manager appears to be leaning toward a closer-by-committee with some combination of Pedro Strop, Jason Motte and Hector Rondon, who’s been demoted after his struggles in the ninth inning.

Will Soriano factor into the closer’s role at some point?

“I have no idea – I honest to God don’t,” Maddon said. “I just want him to be well, and obviously get here and help us. And (then) we’ll make that determination.” 

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: