Justin Grimm

Cubs part ways with Justin Grimm, opening up bullpen competition

Cubs part ways with Justin Grimm, opening up bullpen competition

One of the longest tenured member of the Cubs bullpen is no longer a part of the equation. 

The Cubs released Justin Grimm Thursday afternoon, parting ways with the 29-year-old right-hander.

Grimm was originally acquired from the Texas Rangers as part of the Matt Garza move back in July 2013. Only Pedro Strop has been a part of the Cubs bullpen longer than Grimm.

Since then, Grimm has pitched in 263 games in a Cubs uniform, posting a 3.82 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 10.3 K/9.

Grimm was stellar in 2015, setting career bests with a 1.99 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 12.1 K/9. In the last two seasons, however, Grimm has pitched to a 4.83 ERA and 1.33 WHIP, including a 5.53 ERA in 2017 while spending time shuttling between Triple-A Iowa and the big leagues. 

He was not active for either postseason series in 2017 and allowed 6 runs in 4.1 innings during the 2016 playoff run.

Grimm gave up 6 hits, 4 runs and 2 homers in 4 innings this spring. He was out of minor-league options, so he had to be kept on the big-league roster or else passed through waivers.

The Cubs now can incorporate another arm into the bullpen mix, choosing from a group of guys that include Eddie Butler, Anthony Bass, Shae Simmons and Dillon Maples.

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Maples throws 100 mph and has a devastating slider, but still may be best served starting the year in the minors to fine-tune his control.

The Cubs could opt to go with Butler — who is also out of minor-league options — in the final bullpen spot and give them two relievers (Butler and Mike Montgomery) capable of pitching multiple innings in relief. Simmons also has extensive big-league experience.

Randy Rosario, 23, could be an option, as well, but he's a lefty and the Cubs already have three southpaws locked into the bullpen (Montgomery, Justin Wilson and Brian Duensing). It would be hard to see the Cubs use half of their bullpen spots on lefties, even if Wilson, Montgomery and Duensing are all adept at getting right-handed hitters out.

Can the Cubs' bullpen move on from all those postseason walks and provide a safety net for Brandon Morrow?


Can the Cubs' bullpen move on from all those postseason walks and provide a safety net for Brandon Morrow?

The Cubs have a super rotation with four guys who could be No. 1 starters on other teams. They have a lineup packed with young position players that even in a down year managed to score the second most runs in the National League.

After reaching three straight NL Championship Series, this team looks primed for another run at a World Series.

That's not to say there aren't questions, of course. And if there is a hole on this club, it might be found out in the bullpen, where efforts to bring back All-Star closer Wade Davis didn't pan out and Brandon Morrow, who hasn't regularly worked as a closer in a decade, is the new ninth-inning man.

Morrow brings plenty of success from last season, when he was stellar in high-leverage situations for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He pitched in every game of the World Series as the Dodgers came one win away from a championship.

But closing is a different animal, as plenty of baseball folks will tell you.

"There is something about the ninth inning, and the last three outs are the toughest and the last out is the toughest," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said during the early days of spring training. "I think the big thing about that is you really have to have a short memory because you’re going to screw up once in a while. I think the guys that handle the failure the best are the guys that play — in combination with having good stuff — but the guys that handle the bad moment better are the guys that can really do that job. Because you’re not going to get that opportunity unless you have good stuff. You have good stuff, you have great ability, how do you handle the bad moment? And I think that really separates these guys."

The Cubs have all the confidence in the world in Morrow. But what happens if Morrow can't translate general late-inning success to ninth-inning success? What happens if Morrow doesn't work out in the closer's role? Then what for a Cubs team with such high, "World Series or bust" expectations?

Certainly there are options. Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop have years of late-inning experience with this team. Justin Wilson is being hyped as a strong bounce-back candidate after his rough go of things after being acquired from the Detroit Tigers last summer. Steve Cishek, also signed this offseason, has a lot of closing experience from his days with the Miami Marlins and Seattle Mariners.

"We’ve got eight guys down there, eight guys that can go get three outs in the ninth inning. I truly believe that," Justin Grimm said. "It’ll be fun to watch. It’s so funny, certain guys, it’s just rising to that occasion. And you see a different pitcher out of them in different situations. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ve always had faith in every single guy down there. I watch them work, I watch them throw their bullpens. Pretty impressive stuff."

"(Wilson) can, Stropy can, CJ can, Cishek’s done it. We’ve got a lot of guys that fit into that category," Maddon said. "The days that Morrow’s not available, it could be anybody."

"Anybody on this team can close the game," Edwards added.

All that confidence is great, especially heading into a season where the expectations are what they are. But don't be surprised if a large number of Cubs fans don't share that confidence.

As good as the North Side relief corps was during the regular season in 2017 — the 3.80 bullpen ERA was the third best in the NL — the playoffs were a completely different story. In 10 postseason games and 37.2 postseason innings, Cubs relievers posted a grotesque 6.21 ERA, walking 27 batters compared to striking out just 35.

Now, bullpen pitching wasn't great across the league last postseason. The world-champion Houston Astros saw their bullpen turn in a 5.40 ERA and issue 26 walks, just one fewer than the Cubs. But the Astros also played seven more games, with their relievers pitching nearly 25 more innings and striking out almost 30 more batters.

Edwards alone walked six guys and gave up six runs in 4.2 innings of work, an 11.57 postseason ERA. Strop walked three batters in 5.1 innings. Wilson faced just two hitters in one appearance, unreliable after he gave up 10 earned runs and walked 19 hitters in just 17.2 regular-season innings after joining the Cubs. Grimm didn't pitch at all during the 2017 postseason after a rough season that saw him shuttled back and forth between the big leagues and Triple-A Iowa and finish with a 5.53 ERA.

So there's a reason for folks to feel that the safety net past Morrow might not be all that safe.

But the Cubs have done work to assure that's not the case. Maddon and plenty of others are expecting big things from Wilson, who converted 13 of 15 save opportunities as the Tigers' closer prior to last summer's trade. Cishek has 121 career saves, including 25 in 2016, when he finished 40 games for the Mariners. He was one of the more effective closers in the game during a three-year stretch with the Marlins during which he recorded 88 saves.

And then there's new pitching coach Jim Hickey. Maddon's old partner in crime with the Rays, Hickey is confident in how things will play out in the bullpen. But he's focused on getting those walks down.

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer said repeatedly during the offseason that they intended to fix the strike-throwing problem that Hoyer said went through the pitching staff like a "disease." Hickey's all for being the cure for that ailment.

"I think there is something that a coach can do to help, however it’s just simply making them aware or encouraging them. And I really think that walks, especially out of the bullpen, are a little bit more of a mindset than they are anything physically or mechanically wrong," Hickey said last month in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "You come into a situation where maybe you give up a base hit and maybe it changes the game, so you’re a little bit reluctant to throw the ball over the plate. Now it’s 1-0, now it’s 2-0, so you maybe nibble a little bit.

"So I think it’s more of a mindset, and once the group gets the mindset of ‘attack, attack, attack,’ it’ll be contagious. And I think it is contagious. I think last year it was probably contagious in that there was more walks than you would like, and I think as you turn the corner and head the other direction, that would be contagious, as well.

"I have very few outcome goals in a season. I don’t sit there and say, ‘I want to lead the league in earned-run average’ or ‘I want to lead the league in strikeouts.’ That would all be great. Or ‘I want to lead the league in batting average against.’ But that one thing, that one outcome goal that I always have for a staff is to have the least amount of walks in the league. And I think at the end of the day, especially with the talent that’s out there, if that is the case, it’s going to be an extremely successful season."

And it sounds like buy-in won't be a problem.

"I can prove a lot," Edwards said. "Starting with strikes."

Cubs add reliever who could create some bullpen competition


Cubs add reliever who could create some bullpen competition

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs' bullpen figured to look pretty set, but the team announced an addition Friday that could create some competition in the relief corps.

Shae Simmons, who pitched in nine games with the Seattle Mariners last season, agreed to a 2018 major league split contract with the Cubs and could be in the mix for a spot in the bullpen.

Simmons has pitched in 42 big league games, the bulk of those coming in 2014 with the Atlanta Braves, when he posted a 2.91 ERA in 21.2 innings. He missed the entirety of the 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery. He was traded to the Mariners after the 2016 season and again battled injuries last season, pitching only 7.2 innings.

Simmons could potentially provide some competition in the bullpen as guys like Justin Grimm and Justin Wilson try to bounce back from what they did in 2017. Roster spots would figure to be locked in for the likes of Steve Cishek, Brian Duensing, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop.

Wilson would also seem a safe bet to be in the bullpen considering how good he was before coming over to the Cubs in last summer's midseason trade with the Detroit Tigers. He had a 2.68 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 40.1 innings with the Tigers, and then posted a 5.09 ERA in his 17.2 innings with the Cubs. He's in need of a bounce-back season, for sure, but you'd have to imagine he'll get the opportunity to do just that.

That leaves Grimm, who while the favorite for that final bullpen spot admittedly had a bad season in 2017. He had a 5.53 ERA in 50 big league appearances and was shuttled back and forth between the North Side and Triple-A Iowa.

Offseason additions have already shaped the look of this 2018 bullpen, and perhaps Simmons makes one more newcomer that could make an impact in relief this season.