Cubs add ‘funk’ to bullpen with Joe Smith but otherwise stay quiet at trade deadline

Cubs add ‘funk’ to bullpen with Joe Smith but otherwise stay quiet at trade deadline

The Cubs didn’t engineer another blockbuster deal before Monday afternoon’s non-waiver trade deadline, adding right-handed reliever Joe Smith from the Los Angeles Angels and sticking to their belief that this is a team already built to win the World Series.

The Cubs didn’t feel a sense of desperation after acquiring 105-mph closer Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees in last week’s 4-for-1 deal, giving them a game-changing presence for October.

Smith – another rental player who put up a 3.82 ERA in 38 appearances for the Angels this season – only cost the Cubs a Class-A pitcher (Jesus Castillo) and will give manager Joe Maddon a change-of-pace option to go with setup guys Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon.

“Love funk,” Maddon said before a 5-0 win over the Miami Marlins at Wrigley Field. “Funk in the bullpen is always a good thing. No hitter likes to see funk come out of the bullpen.”

Smith, 32, has a sub-3.00 ERA and a groundball rate close to 57 percent across a 10-year career that’s primarily been spent in the American League – and on the outside looking in at the playoffs (three scoreless appearances in the postseason).

Smith can shut down right-handed hitters (.661 opponent OPS this season/.214 career batting average against) and pitch in high-leverage situations (26 saves and 56 holds since the start of the 2014 season).

“He gives us a different look,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “He’s a sidearm/groundball guy. We don’t have that look or that ability right now in our bullpen. It’s great to have hard-throwing guys with great breaking balls, but it’s nice to add a different look to your bullpen. He’s also a guy Joe can use to get a big double play in the right spot."

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs already added a different left-handed dimension to their bullpen by acquiring Mike Montgomery from the Seattle Mariners on July 20, addressing what had been their most obvious weakness/opportunity to upgrade with a series of deals that also included signing former All-Star closer Joe Nathan.

The Cubs also saved up trade chips for this winter, when they will again be in pursuit of a young starting pitcher to anchor the 2018 rotation and hedge against Jake Arrieta’s possible free agency, John Lackey’s eventual retirement and Jon Lester’s inevitable decline phase.

“After getting Chapman, that looks like it puts us in a really good spot,” Arrieta said. “The move for Joe helps us address a need (for) a guy that can come in and be effective against a big right-handed bat during a crucial time in any game. I don’t know if it’s considered a huge move, but it’s a move that definitely helps us.

“We’re definitely better after the trades we’ve made. But at the same time, as a rotation, we need to keep doing what we’re doing, pitching deep into games and get it to the point where hopefully we’ve got a lot of leads in the seventh and eighth inning to let those guys end up doing their thing and finishing it out for us.”

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

NBC Sports Chicago

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

Ozzie Guillen explains why he thinks Manny Machado is a better fit for the Cubs than the White Sox. Plus, Guillen and Marlon Byrd react to 19-year-old Juan Soto hitting a homer in his first at-bat with the Nationals.

Later in the show the guys debate who had the better rants in front of the media: Guillen or Byrd?

Finally, Byrd opens up about his PED suspensions, relates to the guys caught using PEDs now and Guillen offers up a solution to rid baseball of PEDs entirely.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: