Cubs

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 executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.