Cubs hope World Baseball Classic will be a boost for Hector Rondon

Cubs hope World Baseball Classic will be a boost for Hector Rondon

MESA, Ariz. – After being frozen out of the biggest moments in the World Series, maybe Hector Rondon will rediscover something during the World Baseball Classic.    

The Cubs gave Rondon the green light to leave camp after Tuesday's workout and join Team Venezuela in San Diego for the second round of the international showcase, another sign that the right-handed reliever has recovered from the triceps injury that left him at less than full strength last October. 

"It's going to be intense," Rondon said. "I'm excited, because I've never pitched for my country, and I feel like it's almost going to be the same adrenaline as the playoffs or the World Series."

Rondon never quite got back into rhythm after that second-half injury, which put him outside manager Joe Maddon's circle of trust and contributed to Aroldis Chapman throwing 97 pitches combined in Games 5, 6 and 7 against the Cleveland Indians. 

If Rondon can become the elite setup guy the Cubs envisioned when they made that blockbuster Chapman trade with the New York Yankees – and Pedro Strop, Koji Uehara and new closer Wade Davis stay healthy – then this could become a lights-out bullpen. 

"It's good for him," Maddon said. "Talking to him, he's really excited about representing his country, which I think is cool. Watching him throw, he's ready to go. He's in good shape.

"I actually think him getting into that competition right now is going to be a good thing for him. It's one of those win-win situations."

Rondon – who saved 77 games across the last three seasons as the Cubs blossomed from a last-place team into World Series champions – again said "I don't care" when asked about his role once he returns from the World Baseball Classic.   

"When Aroldis walked in the door last year, all of a sudden he was pushed into a different situation," Maddon said. "He was wonderful about it, a great team guy about it. But internally you got to feel something, and I thought he dealt with it really well. 

"Now you got Wade Davis walking in the door. Before we actually culminated that deal, I got a chance to talk with Ronnie on the phone. And, again, he was magnanimous.

"Everything was great. I'm sure there might be just a part of him that might have been injured by that a little bit. However, I anticipate he's going to be fine."

CubsTalk Podcast: The cost to get Chris Archer and how Brandon Morrow can fill an Andrew Miller-esque role


CubsTalk Podcast: The cost to get Chris Archer and how Brandon Morrow can fill an Andrew Miller-esque role

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Tony Andracki and Kelly Crull break down where Brandon Morrow and Drew Smyly fit in the Cubs' pitching plans while Kyle Schwarber craziness reaches new heights.

Peter Gammons and Bob Nightengale weigh Schwarber’s trade value and how likely it may be that the Cubs could secure a Chris Archer, Gerrit Cole or Michael Fulmer this winter. Nightengale also explains how Brandon Morrow could fill an Andrew Miller-esque role for the Cubs.

Plus, Cubs manager Joe Maddon stops by the CubsTalk Podcast to chat with Kelly about his offseason gameplan and why he’s still such a staunch believer in rest even when away from baseball.

Listen to the entire podcast here:

Where Brandon Morrow and Drew Smyly fit in Cubs pitching plans for 2018 and beyond

Where Brandon Morrow and Drew Smyly fit in Cubs pitching plans for 2018 and beyond

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Brandon Morrow is officially official as a member of the Cubs pitching staff (finally), and the team also added another intriguing arm Tuesday night at the Winter Meetings.

The Cubs announced a two-year deal for Morrow with a club/vesting option for 2020. They also signed left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly on a two-year deal worth a reported $10 million, though the 28-year-old pitcher had Tommy John in June and likely won't contribute much in 2018.

The Cubs are looking toward the future with Smyly as a possible 2019 rotation piece. If he's able to return at all in 2018, it will probably only be as a bullpen option.

"This is a move that’s focused on 2019," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday night. "Really good high-quality starting pitcher, and we’re excited to get him on this deal, rehab him and hopefully get him back to exactly where he was.”

Smyly did not pitch at all in 2017 and was non-tendered by the Seattle Mariners on Dec. 1. He made 30 starts for the Tampa Bay Rays (and new Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey) in 2016, going 7-12 with a 4.88 ERA. Joe Maddon also managed Smyly for a couple months at the end of the 2014 season.

“Both [Hickey and Maddon] liked him a lot," Hoyer said. "We talked to Jim about him, thinks really highly of him, says he’s exceptionally deceptive with how he pitches.

"Both his fastball and his curveball are really deceptive, good cutter and loves how he competes. So Jim was a big part of us wanting to do this.”

Smyly was one of the pieces that went from the Detroit Tigers to the Rays for David Price at the trade deadline in 2014. In his first 19 starts with the Rays between 2014 and 2015, Smyly went 8-3 with a 2.52 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 114.1 innings.

With Smyly not expected to impact 2018's rotation, the Cubs might still be in the market for another starting pitcher this winter, or they might choose to honor Mike Montgomery's wishes and insert him into the rotation full-time (and subsequently look for a potential swingman for the bullpen and rotation depth).

It'd be hard to just hand Smyly a spot in the 2019 Cubs rotation, but the Cubs committing somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million on a two-year deal indicates they're serious about his long-term potential. Plus, he won't turn 30 until June 2019.

The Cubs also have their other four starters — Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood — all signed through the 2020 season, so either they won't be in hard on long-term free-agent signings like Alex Cobb or would just stockpile pitching and sort out any possible six-man rotation issues a year from now.

As of right now, Morrow would serve as the Cubs' closer, but they're still in the market for impact relief pitching and are open to anything. Morrow is also a guy that could slot in as a setup man or high-leverage guy coming in at the most opportune time in the game, even if that means the fifth or sixth inning.

“Did an awesome job in the eighth inning last year for the Dodgers," Hoyer said. "We’re excited to have him. He’s going to pitch super high-leverage innings. If the season started tomorrow and we played a game, he’d be our closer.”