Cubs manager Joe Maddon says Jonathan Papelbon’s name hasn’t come up during his conversations with Theo Epstein’s front office.
“The guys have not discussed him with me,” Maddon said before Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. “I’ve not heard a whole lot of scuttlebutt about the clubhouse yet, either.
“I’m not saying it can’t happen – don’t get me wrong – but for right now, there is nothing happening.”
With reports signaling that Papelbon will make his decision within the next 24 hours, all signs now point to the Cubs not adding a combustible element to their clubhouse. But that would mostly reflect Papelbon being a diminished pitcher who just got released by the Washington Nationals – a first-place team the Cubs could ultimately face in the playoffs – and not the WWE villain caught choking Bryce Harper in the dugout last September.
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The Cubs have Boston Red Sox wings in their front office (Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod) and clubhouse (Jon Lester, John Lackey, David Ross), which made the best team in baseball an attractive destination from Papelbon’s perspective. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Papelbon winds up back at Fenway Park.
“You should be able to absorb a personality that (from the outside) people might view in a different way,” Maddon said. “I’ve always had faith that if you do the right thing in that room, the next person that comes in (gets) the message – ‘This is how we do it here’ – without me having to say it. Or if they’re going against the grain: ‘We don’t do that here’ is also a good way of putting it.
“If you look throughout really good teams in different sports, they’ve been able to take people that come in that maybe weren’t viewed as well outside. (But then) – all of a sudden – they become model citizens. And that’s not because of the manager or the coach. That’s because of the room. That’s because of that group.
“I really have a lot of faith in our players that regardless of who we put in that room, these guys would pretty much have the new person understand: ‘This is how we do things here.’ Or maybe even more importantly: ‘That’s not how we do things here.’ So I’ve never been opposed to that – the perception from outside looking in – because I do have a lot of faith in our guys.”
Papelbon no longer inspires the same faith in the ninth inning – or fear factor for opponents – at the age of 35 and near the end of a career that has seen him make six All-Star teams, save 368 games and earn a World Series ring with the 2007 Red Sox.
For now at least, the Cubs believe Pedro Strop will return from knee surgery next month and Hector Rondon won’t go on the disabled list with a triceps injury. The hope is Joe Smith (8.10 ERA) is better than his five-game sample size since getting traded from the Los Angeles Angels. And that Carl Edwards Jr. (27 strikeouts in 19-plus innings) and Justin Grimm (zero runs allowed in his last 14 outings) can keep evolving into trusted setup guys.
“I like our group right now,” Maddon said. “We’ve gone back and forth with different guys this year, and as long as these guys are well, I have a lot of faith in the group in there right now.”