Cubs

Anthony Rizzo: Starling Marte’s PED suspension shows MLB needs more drug testing

Anthony Rizzo: Starling Marte’s PED suspension shows MLB needs more drug testing

Surrounded by reporters at his locker looking for a reaction to Tuesday's steroid bust, Anthony Rizzo flipped the question around: Why wouldn't Starling Marte take the risk? 

The Pittsburgh Pirates already handed Marte a six-year, $31 million contract before Opening Day 2014, plus two club options that could make the deal worth $53 million for the All-Star/Gold Glove outfielder. Major League Baseball suspending Marte for 80 games after testing positive for nandrolone will cost him roughly $2.5 million and the chance to play in the postseason this year.  

That doesn't sound like much of a deterrent to Rizzo, one of the faces of the world champion Cubs and a star player willing to speak his mind on certain issues.

"Is it a big risk if you're suspended 80 games and you got a guaranteed contract?" Rizzo said. "Do you take that risk to get the reward? That's the question you ask. For some guys, it is a big risk, for others, you get away with it, you get the big deal. But it's part of the game. And my opinion is we need to drug test a lot more."

Standing in the Wrigley Field clubhouse before a night game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Rizzo said he hasn't been screened since the initial round of testing in spring training.

"Me, personally, I haven't been tested since the season started," Rizzo said. "It's been a solid two months now. It's a random drug test and I'll probably be drug-tested a week from now, because I'm saying this. But for me, it's 15 minutes. We should be getting drug-tested a lot more."

Marte – who hit .311, stole 47 bases and won a second Gold Glove last season to bump Andrew McCutchen out of center field – homered off Jake Arrieta during Pittsburgh's weekend sweep in Wrigleyville. 

"I don't look in the rearview mirror," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Yeah, you could go backward and get upset about moments like that. If they had done this sooner, would it have made a difference? I really don't know, so I don't live that way."

After dangling McCutchen in offseason trade talks, the Pirates pulled back a proud franchise player, while power-hitting infielder Jung Ho Kang is still dealing with the legal fallout from multiple drunk-driving incidents in South Korea. Marte's suspension leaves a small-market team trying to catch the Cubs with almost no margin for error.

"Is it perfect?" Maddon said. "Probably not, but I also believe when something like this occurs, as we continue to move forward, whatever is falling through the cracks eventually will not anymore. 

"In some ways, it's unfortunate for Pittsburgh. That really is devastating to the entire group, not just the individual himself. It's really a tough moment to be in.

"(But) it appears that the system is working. (And) if it's not 100 percent working, at least it's trending in the right direction."

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Rizzo is also realistic enough to understand that kind of hit rate won't happen in what's become a booming $10 billion (and counting) industry.

"Any system that's in place, you're going to have people trying to beat it," Rizzo said. "No matter what you do for a living, people are going to try to beat the system. It's no different here. If there are loopholes, guys know about them. 

"(Marte) happened to get caught, but for sure there are other guys that are doing something very similar, because to get caught with something that aggressive in his system, there's obviously something wrong."

Rizzo also sounded disappointed on a different level. At the age of 28, Marte should be in the prime of his career, a worthy rival for the defending World Series champs. But now one of the more dynamic players in the game looks like a fraud. 

"I personally love playing against Starling Marte," Rizzo said. "Every time he gets on first, I like talking to him. We mess around a lot in-game. And then something like this comes along, it's just like: 'Man, anybody could be doing it.' It's unfortunate."

Brandon Morrow and the state of the Cubs bullpen ahead of the trade deadline

Brandon Morrow and the state of the Cubs bullpen ahead of the trade deadline

Brandon Morrow is getting an extended All-Star Break.

For the second time in the last month, the Cubs closer is heading to the disabled list to get another break, this time with inflammation in his right biceps.

That leaves the Cubs without their best relief pitcher — a guy with a 1.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 22 saves in 24 chances — for the next week as the team hits the ground running in the second half with 12 games in 11 days against the Cardinals and Diamondbacks.

"It's been bothering him a bit, but we thought it was manageable," Joe Maddon said before the Cubs kicked off play Thursday evening. "But now it's not [manageable], so just have to take a little bit of a break. 

"We don't anticipate him being gone for a long time, but it seems to be prudent to go this course right now."

Maddon pointed to a bit lower velocity Morrow had in San Diego Sunday and believes now is "the right time to back off for the latter part of the season."

The Cubs do have Carl Edwards Jr. back from the paternity list and the 26-year-old flamethrower already got a "break" of his own earlier this season when he missed about 5 weeks with a shoulder issue.

The word "break" is key here because that's how Maddon and the Cubs characterize these little stints on the disabled list.

After all, they are "breaks," even if they're not built into a season like the All-Star Break.

The Cubs want both Morrow and Edwards to be healthy and dynamic in late September and throughout the postseason in October. They've been uber-cautious about the two pitchers throughout their respective Cubs careers and a stint on the disabled list serves to save bullets and wear and tear on their right arms in the dog days of the season.

After all, Morrow has already appeared in 35 games this season, which he's only done once since 2008 — last year, when he pitched in 45 games. Morrow has a long history of arm issues, so the Cubs have given him plenty of slack as they try to keep him healthy for the most important stretch of the season.

But that's also why the Cubs are looking to add some reinforcements to the bullpen before the trade deadline. They were linked to Brad Hand before the lefty was traded to the Cleveland Indians Thursday and they've also been linked to Orioles closer Zach Britton.

If Britton's healthy, he could serve as a perfect fit for the Cubs as a rental with closing experience and a guy from the left side to help fill both needs in the Chicago bullpen.

The Cubs currently have Justin Wilson, Randy Rosario and Brian Duensing as left-handed options in the bullpen, but all are at varying levels of confidence at the moment.

Wilson still has some issues with control, but otherwise has been very good of late. Rosario is a rookie and his outlying numbers indicate his 1.95 ERA is a bit of a mirage. Duensing just recently returned from the DL himself and currently boasts a 6.59 ERA and 1.83 WHIP on the season.

Then there's Mike Montgomery, who right now has a stranglehold on a spot in the Cubs rotation while Yu Darvish gets healthy. There is currently no update on Darvish, which means Montgomery won't be moving back to the bullpen anytime soon.

With less than 2 weeks left until the trade deadline, Maddon would be all for adding another arm or two to his pitching staff.

"Sure. All of the pitching, they're definitely going to want to look at it," Maddon said. "Our numbers are among the best in the NL both overall and as a bullpen and then even into the starters.

"But you're always looking to make it better. That's what GMs do. We'll see how it all plays out. We're hoping the [Morrow] thing is a shorter situation, which we believe it will be."

Cubs reportedly a 'main player' in trade talks for Orioles' Zach Britton

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USA TODAY

Cubs reportedly a 'main player' in trade talks for Orioles' Zach Britton

According to Bruce Levine of 670 The Score, the Cubs are a “main player” in a possible trade for Orioles closer Zach Britton before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

The Cubs will face competition from some familiar names as far as a bidding war for Britton goes. 

After sending Cubs closer Brandon Morrow back to the 10-day disabled list with right biceps inflammation on Thursday, the team could be searching for another reliever.

The 30-year-old is a ninth-inning veteran who tallied a career-high 47 saves with a 0.54 ERA in 2016, the year he finished fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting. He’s also been selected to two All-Star Games in his eight-year career.

But the closer’s 2018 season has had its ups and downs. He’s spent time getting reacquainted to pitching after having surgery for a ruptured right Achilles tendon that kept Britton out until June. He’s only pitched in 15 games while posting a 3.68 ERA in 14 2/3 innings. Britton hasn’t allowed a run in his last seven appearances.

Should the Cubs actually be concerned with his recent health issues?  According to MLB.com, the Orioles reliever has “been showing a dramatic increase in velocity.” It seems it took him some time to get back to his previous form.

If he can even be close to the same player he was two years ago, Britton would be more than useful to the Cubs bullpen.