After changing perceptions, could Aroldis Chapman return to Cubs next year?

After changing perceptions, could Aroldis Chapman return to Cubs next year?

CLEVELAND – A Cubs official admitted that it almost feels wrong to think about next season when this could still be The Year. But Theo Epstein’s front office has quietly been having those discussions during the downtime in an exhilarating, high-stress, emotionally draining playoff run. 

Reputations can be made in October and November, and until this World Series it looked like Aroldis Chapman could not – or would not – do what Andrew Miller did for the Cleveland Indians, springing into the middle of games and working multiple innings, even if it wasn’t the ninth.

But Chapman’s high-maintenance vibes faded into the background when he stepped forward and got eight outs in Game 5 and four more in Game 6, helping push the Cubs to the brink of their first World Series title in 108 years.  

Chapman – who will become a free agent after Wednesday night’s Game 7 at Progressive Field – showcased the ideal flexibility that had been in doubt ever since the Cubs made that blockbuster deal with the New York Yankees in late July.

“Of course,” manager Joe Maddon said, he would like to have Chapman back in 2017. “He’s been an extremely large reason why we’re in this moment right now. I think the perception has to have changed with him – and bully for him.

“We’ve done a lot of conversations over the last two months. In the beginning, you’re all well aware that I tried to do it (this way). Then we talked and he preferred not, so we got away from it, with the understanding that when we got to this point that it would change.

“Industry-wide, I would have to believe his stock has risen dramatically for what he’s done and how he’s done it. Total team guy right now.”

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Chapman – a physical specimen with a left arm that has a 100-mph default setting – already expected to smash the four-year, $50 million contract the Philadelphia Phillies gave Jonathan Papelbon after the 2011 season.

Chapman has so far appeared in 12 out of 16 possible playoff games, going 1-0 with four saves, a 2.51 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 14-plus innings. Maddon credited Chapman’s personal assistant – Santiago Mateo travels with the team and hangs around the clubhouse – for being the conduit between the coaching staff and the superstar closer after a rocky start in Chicago.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be communicative with these guys,” Maddon said. “They are definitely luxury items. They are the best sports car. They’re the yacht. They’re the coolest, hottest plane in the air right now.

“It really requires a lot of communication to definitely be on the same page. And I think we achieved that.”

This class of free agents also includes Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon, though Epstein’s overall philosophy for constructing bullpens revolves around growing from within, looking for change-of-scenery/bounce-back guys and staying away from the big contracts for relievers.

The Cubs spent nearly $290 million on free agents during the last offseason, essentially combining two winters into one with the knowledge that this class would be particularly weak. Chapman also comes with off-the-field baggage, serving a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy at the start of this season.

“I don’t know what our financial structure is,” Maddon said. “But I know that ‘Chappy’ has made a great impression on all of us.”

Kris Bryant jumping at thunder during a rain delay is pure comedy


Kris Bryant jumping at thunder during a rain delay is pure comedy

The Cubs-Braves game on Wednesday got delayed due to a thunderstorm that blew through Chicago.

It made for a pretty scene with a pink and orange sky during sunset that made way to rain clouds, thunder and lightning. Fox Sports South captured the footage of the Wrigley sky and then caught Kris Bryant jumping and then running in the dugout at the sound of thunder.

Even former MVPs can be scared of thunder.


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Cubs will need more than Craig Kimbrel to completely change fortunes

Cubs will need more than Craig Kimbrel to completely change fortunes

Cubs fans are understandably excited Craig Kimbrel is ready to make his debut with the team later this week.

He's a future Hall of Fame closer who is still in the midst of his prime and could very well be a shutdown reliever for the entire second half of the season.

But while the bullpen was a clear weakness of this team during tough times earlier in the season, the Cubs haven't slogged out to a 12-12 record in June because their back-end relievers have been blowing late leads.

So how much of a direct impact will Kimbrel have on the team's success? We don't know for sure, but let's look back at every loss this month and see if he would've been able to change the outcome in any ballgame:

June 1 — Cardinals 7, Cubs 4

Kimbrel probably wouldn't have pitched in a game that featured a three-hour rain delay, as Tyler Chatwood gave up 3 runs in the sixth inning in relief of Jose Quintana and the Cubs never even tied the game again.

June 2 — Cardinals 2, Cubs 1 

This was at least a close game, but the Cubs actually trailed 2-0 heading to the top of the ninth inning, when they mounted a comeback against the St. Louis bullpen that fell just short. Either way, it's almost assuredly not a game Kimbrel would have even made it into.

June 6 — Rockies 3, Cubs 1

Quintana gave up all 3 runs before the seventh inning ended and the Cubs offense could do nothing against a rookie making his first MLB start (Peter Lambert).

June 10 — Rockies 6, Cubs 5

Here's one where having Kimbrel could've had an indirect impact. The Cubs never had a save situation, but they did lose the game because the bullpen gave up solo runs in the bottom of the seventh and eighth innings. If Kimbrel is in the 'pen, the trickle down effect comes into play, which means Joe Maddon has more options at his disposal — including Steve Cishek and Pedro Strop earlier in the game. However, it was Cishek that was saddled with the loss by allowing a run in the eighth inning. The only way it would've set up any differently with Kimbrel is if the Cubs used Cishek in the seventh inning and slotted Strop in for the eighth, and the result may have been different. So we'll say Kimbrel could've had an impact on this one, albeit indirectly.

June 11 — Rockies 10, Cubs 3

When you're losing 9-1 going into the seventh inning, what does it matter who your closer is?

June 13 — Dodgers 7, Cubs 3

This one was all about the Dodgers being good and Jon Lester struggling and had nothing to do with the bullpen. The Cubs mounted a 3-0 lead, but their ace gave it all back and then some — allowing 3 homers and 6 runs over 5 innings. The bullpen would not have done much in this game.

June 14 — Dodgers 5, Cubs 3

Rinse and repeat. The Cubs once again jumped out to an early lead, but starting pitching couldn't hold it as Kyle Hendricks was touched up for 5 runs in 4.1 innings in his final appearance before hitting the injured list. The Cubs bullpen actually pitched admirably in the contest, throwing 3.2 shutout innings against a very good lineup.

June 16 — Dodgers 3, Cubs 2

It's certainly possible this one would've been different if Kimbrel were around. With something of a limited bullpen and Brandon Kintzler already pitching earlier in the contest, Cishek was forced to throw multiple innings and gave up the winning run in the eighth — his second inning of work — to break a 2-2 tie. Again, Kimbrel likely would not have been pitching in that spot, but if he was around and available, maybe Maddon could've gone with Strop or somebody else instead of utilizing Cishek for a second inning.

June 18 — White Sox 3, Cubs 1

Ahh, the Eloy Game. Also a game that it's very possible we would've seen Kimbrel, but you can't really fault Maddon with how this one played out. Cubs had a fresh bullpen coming off a rare off-day and watched Cole Hamels throw a gem, allowing just 1 run in 7 innings. Kintzler pitched a scoreless eighth inning in a tie ballgame and then Maddon called on Strop to throw the ninth inning — when Eloy Jimenez had his signature moment. Maybe Maddon would've gone to Kimbrel to pitch the top of the ninth inning, but you can't really lament losing when one of your best relievers is pitching late in a tie game and it doesn't work out.

June 21 — Mets 5, Cubs 4

Cubs jumped out to a 4-3 lead on Addison Russell's 2-run homer, but Yu Darvish couldn't hold it, giving the lead right back the following inning. The Cubs then lost the game when embattled reliever Brad Brach came into a 4-4 tie and gave up a single that eventually came around to score the winning run. Maybe Kimbrel's presence would've changed that outcome, as it could've been another reliever in the game besides Brach, but the Cubs still didn't hit much (Darvish accounted for half their runs) and it was a couple of groundball basehits that led to the winning run scoring, so it's not like Brach and Mike Montgomery got lit up.

June 22 — Mets 10, Cubs 2

This was a clunker of a game that was over well before either team's bullpen figured into things.

June 25 — Braves 3, Cubs 2

Hard to win many games scoring only 2 runs. Maybe Montgomery would not have been pitching in the seventh inning with a 2-1 lead if Kimbrel were around, but the Cubs also needed/wanted some length after Adbert Alzolay's 4.2-inning start and Montgomery had retired five of the six batters he faced before allowing the game-winning homer. 

So in total, we're looking at maybe three games this month in which Kimbrel could've played a role and potentially changed the outcome for the Cubs. But even those three games are a stretch — who knows if they would've still lost each one of those contests anyways.

This serves as just another reminder that Kimbrel isn't the Cubs' savior. While he will be a very nice piece in the bullpen and help create a positive trickle down effect on the pitching staff, he can't do anything to impact the Cubs' offense or starting pitching and those are the biggest issues plaguing the team at the moment.