Cubs

Where does Justin Grimm fit in Cubs bullpen?

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Where does Justin Grimm fit in Cubs bullpen?

MESA, Ariz. — It's still early in spring training (Cactus League games haven't even started yet), but it's already a given Justin Grimm will be a part of the Cubs' Opening Day bullpen if healthy.

The question is: In what role?

Joe Maddon isn't one to adopt or announce specific roles for pitchers in his bullpens, but when asked Monday, the Cubs manager offered up another year of the 27-year-old right-hander filling in as the team's "mid-innings closer" again while acknowledging there is room for that role to expand.

"Yeah, I do," Maddon said. "He could keep growing. This guy's got the kind of stuff that finishes games. I think as he pitches more consistently, as he gets older, you'll see more.

"He's got great stuff. He's got a great attitude. He's a great teammate. He's all of the above. As he gets more comfortable mentally just handling the latter part of the game, he'll be able to do it.

"Going into this year, I'd be happy if he was able to fulfill the same role he did last year."

[RELATED: Cubs set pitching rotation for beginning of Cactus League schedule]

Grimm, however, sees things a little differently. He wants the ball in the late innings in high-pressure situations.

"I've talked to Joe about it. He knows I value myself more than that middle relief connotation they put on it," Grimm said. "I think we're on the same page with that — me and Joe are.

"I'm just here to help this team get to what we want to do. I gotta put my personal things to the side for the team."

Grimm dropped the standard company line in Cubs camp, as everybody works toward pulling the rope in the same direction.

[RELATED: Maddon continues to do 'whatever it takes' to bring Cubs together with crazy Leap Day celebration]

But it still represents a shift in thinking for Grimm, who mentioned each of the last two years that he still envisions himself a starter in the big leagues, but now has taken to the relieving role.

"I truly think I'm getting better with it," Grimm said. "Learning day-to-day, what it takes to stay strong, stay fresh.

"It's just getting that mindset. I think I'm continuing to grow with it."

Grimm has found success as a reliever since coming to the Cubs from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza back in July 2013.

In 2014, he led the Cubs in appearances, putting up a 3.78 ERA in 73 games.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Last year, he got a late start to the season with a forearm injury, but still wound up with 15 holds, three saves and a 1.99 ERA in 62 games.

Grimm also struck out 67 batters in 49.2 innings, ranking ninth in Major League Baseball in K/9 (12.1) among pitchers with at least 40 innings — right up there with some of the top closers in the game like Aroldis Chapman (15.7 K/9), Andrew Miller (14.6), Kenley Jansen (13.8) and Craig Kimbrel (13.2).

This year, regardless of role, Grimm just wants to keep the momentum rolling. He feels comfortable in all his pitches, but knows he needs to use his fastball, too.

"I just wanna build off last year," Grimm said. "It was a great year, but I always expect more out of myself. I'd like to tone down the walks.

"I have the kind of stuff where I'm able to attack the zone and pitch within the zone. I'm just realizing that I have to be on the attack more. I'm at my best when I'm going right after guys."

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

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AP

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.