Cubs

How Justin Grimm could be X-factor in Cubs bullpen

How Justin Grimm could be X-factor in Cubs bullpen

Justin Grimm doesn't care what role he's in anymore, a sign of growth from the past few years when he still held out hope of getting a chance to become a starter again or a more glamorous late-inning role if he had to be in the Cubs bullpen.
 
Grimm is now just focused on taking that next step forward, however he can.
 
"I know my talent. I know what I'm capable of doing," Grimm said. "I'm in a really good spot this spring mentally, physically. I feel good and that's all I'm concerned with right now.
 
"Just being ready to go April 1. Whatever's asked of me, not getting caught up in, 'Aw man, I don't have this role.' I really think that's hurt me in the past. And I think that's why you see me probably excel in games that are tight, because I embrace that. You know they're confident in you to come in, shut it down, whatever it may be."
 
Grimm is focused on consistency, eyeing a full season of dominance instead of flashes that last a month or two at a time.
 
From June 27 through Sept. 13 last season, Grimm gave up just one run in 22.2 innings, striking out 30 batters while allowing only 20 baserunners. Yet even with that spectacular run, Grimm's season ERA was still 4.10 after a bad June overall (10.38 ERA) and five earned runs allowed in his last five appearances.
 
Grimm acknowledges that step forward has to come from between his ears. The talent and stuff is there, as evidenced by his 132 strikeouts in 102.1 innings the last two seasons — a mark that ranks him 12th in baseball in that span (among pitchers with at least 100 innings), just behind dominant relievers like Cody Allen, Ken Giles and Shawn Kelley.
 
"It's just a mental confidence thing," Grimm said. "It's not even necessarily getting caught up in [the role]. You come into a seven-run game, you get a little comfortable.
 
"It's finding ways not to do that. Like, 'OK, well it's 0-0 right now, even though we're winning by eight.' And I feel like that's going to happen a lot this year because we got an offense that's going to put up a lot of runs.
 
"How to handle that and stay locked in, I think it's just having a chip on my shoulder. All the guys are getting all the talk and I like it that way. I'm just in the shadows, doing my job and staying locked in. And I think it's going to help out a lot."
 
Grimm’s self-awareness is on point: With a bullpen that added Wade Davis and Koji Uehara to a group that already included Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr., Grimm is something of a forgotten man.

[PODCAST: The evolution of the Cubs bullpen]
 
Only Rondon and Strop have predated Grimm in the Cubs bullpen and the 28-year-old right-hander has posted a 3.29 ERA across 213 appearances over the last four seasons. This year figures to be more of the same, settling into that "mid-innings closer" role Joe Maddon talked up last year with Grimm and Travis Wood.
 
"He fits in everywhere. Probably earlier in the game, he'll be a great bridge guy," Maddon said. "I've always liked the middle-innings closers. They're the kind of guys that help win games.
 
"All our guys are capable to pitch at almost any time. There's going to be some guys that are probably relegated more to earlier in the game and [Grimm] probably will be one of them, unless we get on a nice roll and everybody's a little bit overused.
 
"But I'm here to tell you, man, when he's throwing the ball right, he can get anybody out and he's very good against lefties."
 
When the Cubs sent Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for Davis over the winter, Grimm was immediately drawn to baseball's ERA leader over the last three seasons. In Davis, Grimm sees a guy who's gone through the starter-to-reliever transition and morphed into one of the top arms in the game. Grimm spent a lot of time around Davis this spring, grabbing the veteran to break down Grimm's game in the video room.
 
"I just looked at him like, 'Wade, it's there. I just gotta find a way to consistently do that for six months, not five months, and have one month where I implode,'" Grimm said.
 
"He's been there. He knows. I look to learn a lot this year from him. It's cool to have a guy like that around. I was saying two years ago when Kansas City came to Wrigley, I would just love to sit down and talk with that guy. When we [traded for] him, I was pumped. 
 
"It's time to learn something from him. Everybody's different, so you can't really try to be like that guy, per se. You just gotta find little things that might work for you, that might change a little bit and help you out. That was the majority of our convo. I literally felt like I was reliving my career listening to him. It was pretty cool."
 
Now it's just a matter of carrying it all over into the games that matter.
 
"I'm not worried about what the hell my role's gonna be," Grimm said. "It's here; it's right now. I know what I'm capable of doing. It's just as much as anybody in this room."

Cubs reportedly interested in adding Yu Darvish to starting rotation

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USA TODAY

Cubs reportedly interested in adding Yu Darvish to starting rotation

The Cubs aren't expected to bring back Jake Arrieta. But what about adding the other top pitcher on the free-agent market?

According to a Saturday report from The Score's Bruce Levine, the Cubs are showing interest in Yu Darvish, who they recently saw in the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Darvish joined the Dodgers in the middle of last season after spending five and a half years as a Texas Ranger. He pitched Game 3 of the NLCS against the Cubs, holding that unusually cold lineup to just one run in 6.1 innings at Wrigley Field, helping the Dodgers reach the World Series. Darvish pitched twice in the Fall Classic against the Houston Astros, taking losses both times and twice failing to get out of the second inning against his old division rivals, including in the decisive Game 7.

The 31-year-old Darvish has been excellent since coming over from Japan ahead of the 2012 season. He's been named to four American League All-Star teams and finished in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting in each of his first two seasons. He missed the entirety of the 2015 campaign with an injury.

Darvish has a 3.42 career ERA in his five big league seasons and three times has struck out more than 200 hitters in a season, including a baseball-leading 277 in 2013.

Along with Arrieta, Darvish is expected to fetch a huge payday this offseason. The Cubs' reported interest could show that they're not finished adding to their pitching staff despite signing four arms in recent weeks. Tyler Chatwood was a free-agent addition to the starting rotation, bringing the number of spoken-for spots there to four, with Chatwood joining Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana as rotation locks. Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek were added to the bullpen, while Drew Smyly — who's expected to miss the entirety of the 2018 campaign while recovering from Tommy John surgery — was signed with eyes on 2019.

After Mike Montgomery's desire to be a starter or go somewhere where he could be was reported during the Winter Meetings, there was a thought he could be the answer at the No. 5 spot on the starting staff. But this reported interest in Darvish — not to mention the team's previously reported connections to free-agent starter Alex Cobb — could mean the Cubs are still looking to add a big name to make the rotation more closely resemble what it looked like in recent seasons with Arrieta in the mix.

The Epstein's front office certainly has options, and the team has frequently voiced its confidence in Montgomery as a starter. But the team, for all its additions, has yet to make a splash this offseason. Stay tuned.

Jon Lester: The most important signing in Cubs history

Jon Lester: The most important signing in Cubs history

Jon Lester became the most important signing in Cubs history when he agreed to a six-year, $155 million contract to be the ace of the Cubs.

He spurned his old team — the Red Sox — along with a handful of other teams ready to pony up the nine-figure deal necessary to acquire the frontline starter. By choosing the Cubs, Lester accelerated Theo Epstein & Jed Hoyer's famous "Plan," legitimizing Chicago as a free agent destination and as an up-and-coming perennial playoff team.

"This signing really marks a transition of sorts for the Cubs, the start of a period where we are clearly very serious about bringing a World Series to the Cubs and the people of Chicago," Epstein said back on Dec. 15, 2014.

Inking Lester to a megadeal was a calculated risk, but all $100 million contracts are. Here's a closer look at the Cubs 100 million dollar men:

Nov. 30, 2006 - The Cubs introduce Alfonso Soriano

Back in 2007, the Cubs needed to make a splash and did so by signing the top free agent hitter on the market.

The Cubs inked Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year, $136 million dollar contract — then, the largest in franchise history. The Cubs had their leadoff hitter — fresh off becoming the fourth member of the 40-40 club — to go along with a new manager in Lou Piniella. Soriano made two All-Star teams for the Cubs in 2007 and 2008 while playing a key role on both division-title winning teams.

However, his time with the Cubs will often be remembered by his offensive decline, his subpar play in the outfield, and his eventual trade to the Yankees. While his overall body of work was statistically respectable, his output did not match the $136 million the Cubs invested in him.

Dec. 15, 2014 - The Cubs introduce Jon Lester

Like the signing of Soriano, the reeling in of Lester to Wrigley Field was paired with the hiring of another new big name manager, Joe Maddon.

Three years into his megadeal, Lester is 43-25 with a 3.33 ERA in 96 starts. The 2016 All-Star and Cy Young runner-up has done some of his best work in the postseason, where he's 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA in his last nine postseason appearances — three of which came in the 2016 World Series.

Lester's tireless work ethic off the field and his veteran influence in a young Cubs clubhouse has made this signing a smashing success. 
    
Dec. 15, 2015 - The Cubs introduce Jason Heyward

One year to the day after introducing Lester, Jason Heyward met with the Chicago media after signing an eight-year, $184 million contract — the richest in franchise history.

Heyward was coming off one of his best offensive seasons (.289, 13 HR, 60 RBI with the Cardinals) and his third Gold Glove in four seasons but the prized free agent struggled from the start in Chicago. Taking Heyward away from the Cardinals and signing baseball's top free agent prize ended up creating an outfield log jam in Chicago.

Heyward's speech during the rain delay in Game 7 against the Indians will most likely end up being the highlight of his Cubs career. The post-World Series championship offseason storyline of Heyward rectifying his broken swing was entertaining to follow on social media, but his 2017 slash line of .259/.326/.389 is clearly not worth the $184 million he signed for.

The future is now

"I believe in the plan that they have in place for the future of the Cubs."

That's what Lester said back on Dec. 15, 2014.

That statement still holds true today. Lester remains the anchor of the Cubs staff surrounded by Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana with reinforcements on the way. Regardless of any additions or subtractions, the Cubs will again be one of baseball's World Series favorites entering 2018 and the reliable lefty will be at the center of it all.

Halfway home, the $155 million deal has been "smart money" spent on Lester, the most important signing in Cubs franchise history.