Cubs

Can Cubs live with Marmols ups and downs?

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Can Cubs live with Marmols ups and downs?

Dale Sveum believes its essential for a manager to never show emotion, and his low-key personality will probably make that easier for him than most on the top step of the dugout.

But lets see the reaction shots when Carlos Marmol walks two batters in a one-run game, 40,000 fans are on their feet and Theo Epstein begins pacing around his suite.

Thats only if the Cubs dont find another endgame solution. After his welcome to Chicago news conference last week, Sveum was asked: Are you set with Marmol as your closer?

Sure, right now thats what we have, Sveum said. We dont have another closer.

By all accounts, Kerry Wood is expected to return in 2012, and Sean Marshall and Andrew Cashner have the potential to one day close, so the Cubs are in a position of strength at the back end of their bullpen.

Sveum has a nuanced, detailed understanding of statistical analysis. But his eyes and his gut tell him that some just arent cut out for the high-adrenaline job.

Not everybodys made to get those last three outs of (a) game, Sveum said. A lot of people might be able to get those three outs in the sixth inning or seventh inning.

Sometimes its not pretty. (But) its not that easy to find guys that can get those last three outs, no matter how ugly its going to be.

Marmol was great theater in 2010, saving 38 games and finishing with 15.99 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest single-season mark in major-league history.

But Marmol lost the feel for his slider last season, and didnt seem to trust his fastball. His ERA ballooned to 4.01 and he tied for the major-league lead with 10 blown saves.

You always try to remember what a guy looks like when hes been good, general manager Jed Hoyer said. Last year clearly was a struggle. The year before was dominant. Hopefully, we can get his slider back on track and make him a dominant closer.

Jonathan Papelbon who got the final out of the 2007 World Series emerged as a key part of the scouting and player-development machine Epstein and Hoyer built in Boston.

The Phillies recently signed Papelbon to a four-year, 50 million contract with a vesting option for 2016. Hoyer doesnt think that deal should make anyone rethink Marmols value.

Its very rare to have a closer with that long a track record, Hoyer said. Since the start of 2006, (Papelbons) been consistent and dominant and really only had one minor health issue.

Marmol had trouble maintaining his mechanics which is never easy for someone with such an unorthodox delivery after signing a three-year, 20 million deal thats heavily back-loaded. Hes guaranteed 7 million in 2012 and 9.8 million the year after that.

Paul Kinzer didnt negotiate that contract, but the agent now represents the closer, along with a few other high-profile Cubs: I think youll see Marmol come (into camp) in great shape and be ready to go (with a) different attitude.

It wouldnt just be selling extremely low on Marmol. The Cubs will also have to take into account a market thats loaded with closer options. The As and Rockies are reportedly listening on offers for Andrew Bailey and Huston Street.

The Rangers reportedly closed with Joe Nathan on Monday, agreeing to a two-year deal worth around 14.5 million that also includes a club option.

Here are some of the other free agents still on the board: Ryan Madson; Heath Bell; Francisco Rodriguez; Francisco Cordero; Frank Francisco; Matt Capps; and Jonathan Broxton.

The exceptional Papelbon became the first player in major-league history to collect at least 30 saves in each of his first six full seasons, and the fastest to reach 200 career saves (359 games), breaking Mariano Riveras record (382).

Heres where Hoyer made a comparison to Marmol: That 2011 season followed one in which Papelbon blew eight saves and finished with a 3.90 ERA for a third-place team. In this line of work, you have to expect volatility.

(Papelbon) struggled a little bit in 2010, Hoyer said. (He) came back and was incredible last year. So it is a position where guys have their ups and downs.

This winter, the Cubs will have to decide just how much they can stomach.

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Luke Stuckmeyer and Tony Andracki discuss the comments Chili Davis made after being fired as Cubs hitting coach, ask if the Cubs struggles on offense were Davis' fault or the players and what Anthony Iapoce will be walking into as he tries to gets the team back on track a the plate.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here, or in the embedded player below: