Cubs

Amid moves, Riggins named pitching coach

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Amid moves, Riggins named pitching coach

Monday, Dec. 6, 2010
2:49 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. Mark Riggins traveled all across the country to watch these pitching prospects, leaving his home in Kentucky to spend around 125 nights each year in a hotel.

Riggins would visit Boise, Idaho, Daytona, Fla., Des Moines, Iowa, a week at each minor-league affiliate to see if they lived up to the hype.

Larry Rothschild didnt seek out the attention, but he cut a familiar figure, sitting next to one Cubs manager after another in the dugout, getting tangled up in the cautionary tales of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.

Most fans wont recognize the new guy with the moustache. But in a move that reinforces their belief in the systems young arms, the Cubs promoted Riggins from minor-league coordinator to pitching coach on Monday to replace Rothschild.

On Day 1 of the winter meetings inside the Walt Disney World complex, that passed as a major announcement for a team with limited payroll flexibility.

The Cubs arent going to be major players in the free-agent market. They are scheduled to meet with agent Scott Boras soon Carlos Penas name will come up as a first-base option and will continue to look for a starting pitcher and a right-handed reliever.

Whichever way the first move may go, general manager Jim Hendry said, that might effect the way you do business for the other couple pieces.

Until dominos start to fall there were rumors linking the Cubs to Adrian Gonzalez and James Loney in unlikely trade talks they will have to look at solutions from within.

The Cubs have locked in Sean Marshall as their eighth-inning reliever, but internally theyre still debating whether Andrew Cashner should be moved to the rotation. It will depend on the other offseason moves.

Riggins spent the past three years as minor-league pitching coordinator, monitoring the impact players the Cubs are counting on for 2011 and beyond. Before that he lasted 29 seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, serving as their pitching coach under Joe Torre in 1995.

Riggins has followed Cashner since he was selected 19th overall in the 2008 draft and helped him work on a changeup during the Arizona Fall League. Riggins believes Cashner has enough pitches to be a front-end major-league starter.

There will be plenty of other projects, especially if the available money is spent on a first baseman. Riggins will try to get through to Carlos Zambrano and salvage the 10 million investment the Cubs made in Jeff Samardzija.

On some level Riggins will have to be a psychologist.

Thats what the game is calling (for) now. These guys are a little different as far as their makeup, their confidence levels, Riggins said. They need to be patted on the back a little more from when I (first started). You have to treat each guy individually. He might have some problems at home, how he was brought up, his parents, his family.

You have to work a lot on the mental side with the guys to keep them going every day.

Communication skills helped Mike Quade earn his promotion. Though Riggins admitted that he hasnt spent much time with the new Cubs manager, he feels they come from the same place. Both will be 54 next year and spent too many seasons in the minors waiting for an opportunity like this.

Rothschild appeared ready to return for his 10th season as Cubs pitching coach he had already exercised his 2011 contractual option but was lured away by the New York Yankees and the chance to train near his family's home in Tampa, Fla.

Rothschild enjoys a good reputation throughout the industry, and there will be few financial limitations placed upon his new pitching staff. But it seems like the Cubs are not going for names, and instead trusting the people they already have in place.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

The Cubs are looking for bullpen help this offseason. Enter Astros free agent right-hander Will Harris.

Harris has quietly been one of the game’s best relievers since 2015. In 309 games (297 innings), the 35-year-old holds a 2.36 ERA and 0.987 WHIP. Over that same period, his ERA ranks third among relievers with at least 250 innings pitched, trailing Zack Britton (1.89) and Aroldis Chapman (2.16).

2019 was one of Harris' finest seasons yet, as he posted a pristine 1.50 ERA and 0.933 WHIP in 68 appearances. Of the 60 innings he pitched last season, 49 2/3 of them came in innings 7-9, an area the Cubs bullpen needs the most help.

Cubs relievers posted a 3.98 ERA last season (No. 8 in MLB), but that number is deceiving. The bullpen was OK in low and medium-leverage spots — as defined by FanGraphs — posting a 3.19 ERA (tied for No. 2 in MLB). But in high leverage spots, they sported a woeful 7.92 ERA (No. 24 in MLB) and a 15.4 percent walk rate (tied for last in MLB).

"It was a real interesting year in the 'pen," Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference. "Our inability to pitch in high-leverage situations was a clear problem and was a contributing factor — we had the third-worst record in all of baseball behind just the Tigers and Orioles in combined 1 and 2-run games.

"Our inability to pitch in high-leverage moments kind of haunted us throughout the year, and that’s something that I have to do a better job of finding options for."

Those walks often spelled doom for the Cubs. Fans remember all too well the three-straight free passes Steve Cishek handed out on Sept. 10 against the Padres, the final of which was a walk-off (literally). David Phelps and Cishek combined to walk three-straight Cardinals on Sept. 20, two of whom came around to score. The Cubs lost that game 2-1; there are plenty more similar instances.

Harris, meanwhile, walked 14 batters (6.1 percent walk rate) in 2019 — 15 if you count the one he allowed in 12 postseason appearances. His career walk rate is 6.2 percent.

Four Cubs late-inning relievers are free agent this winter in Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop. Cishek and Kintzler had solid 2019 seasons, while Strop had his worst season as a Cub. Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 2018, but he and the Cubs are working on a minor league deal, according to WSCR’s Bruce Levine. Strop has expressed his desire to return next season.

Harris regressing in 2020 is a concern. Relievers are the most volatile players in baseball, and Harris could see his performance sag in 2020 after pitching an extra month last season. Teams will have to trust his track record and assume a regression isn't forthcoming.

But assuming Cishek, Kintzler, Morrow and Strop all won’t return in 2020, the Cubs have a couple late-inning relief vacancies. Harris is one of the better available options, and he’d help the Cubs cut down on the walks dished out by their bullpen.

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Cubs add reliever Daniel Winkler in another low-risk, high-reward move

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USA TODAY

Cubs add reliever Daniel Winkler in another low-risk, high-reward move

The Cubs have reportedly made another low-risk gamble on a bullpen arm.

According to MLB Insider Robert Murray, the Cubs have reached an agreement with right-hander Daniel Winkler on a one-year deal.

Winkler, an Effingham, Ill. native holds a career 3.68 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 1.176 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 in 117 games (100 1/3 innings). He spent 2015-19 with the Atlanta Braves, undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2014 and another elbow surgery in April 2017. The Braves dealt him to the San Francisco Giants at the 2019 trade deadline for closer Mark Melancon.

Winkler posted a 4.98 ERA in 27 big league games last season and a 2.93 ERA in 30 minor league games. His best MLB season came with the Braves in 2018, as he made a career-high 69 appearances and posted a 3.43 ERA, striking out 69 batters in 60 1/3 innings.

The Cubs entered the offseason in search of bullpen upgrades following a rough 2019. That search includes finding pitchers who may not have long track records, but qualities demonstrating their ability to make an impact at the big-league level. In this case, Winkler possesses solid spin rates on his cutter, four-seamer and curveball, meaning he induces soft contact and swings and misses.

“We need to keep unearthing pitchers who we acquire for the right reasons, we work well with and have the physical and mental wherewithal to go out and miss a lot of bats,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference, “which is something we didn’t do a lot of — although we did increasingly in the second half with this pitching group — and find more guys who can go out and pitch in high-leverage spots."

The Cubs were successful in unearthing arms last season, acquiring Rowan Wick and Brad Wieck from the Padres in separate deals. They recently acquired Jharel Cotton from the Oakland A’s in a similar buy low move.

Not every pitcher will be as successful as the Wi(e)cks were last season, but the Cubs must continue making low-risk bullpen moves. At the best, they find a legitimate relief arms; at the worst, they move on from a low-cost investments.

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