Cubs betting Rafael Soriano will strengthen their bullpen


Cubs betting Rafael Soriano will strengthen their bullpen

DETROIT – The Cubs will be adding a big-name reliever to a bullpen operating without a set closer: Rafael Soriano.

The Cubs finalized a minor-league deal with Soriano on Tuesday, structuring it with a prorated $4.1 million base salary and $4 million in incentives. So if the 35-year-old right-hander comes up for half the season – a realistic timeline – then he would make roughly $2 million guaranteed.

The Cubs hope they will be getting the lights-out pitcher who put up a 0.97 ERA for the Washington Nationals in the first half of last season, not the one who lost the closer’s job and had a 6.48 ERA after the All-Star break.  

“I have no idea what he’s going to look like,” manager Joe Maddon said before a 6-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. “He’s down in the Dominican and has to go through some paperwork to get out of there. I think once he gets up here, we’ll have a better understanding.”

Soriano earned his only All-Star selection while pitching for Maddon on the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays, posting a 1.73 ERA and saving 45 games for the American League East champs.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Despite fading down the stretch, Soriano still finished with 32 saves last year. He’s pitched in five postseason series with the Rays, Nationals and New York Yankees, where he filled in for – and worked alongside – the legendary Mariano Rivera.

Soriano is coming off a two-year, $28 million contract delivered by super-agent Scott Boras. Soriano apparently grew frustrated with the waiting, recently dropping Boras and switching to Octagon Baseball, which has a Chicago office, several Cubs as clients and a managing director, Alan Nero, who represents Maddon.

“He really knows how to pitch,” Maddon said. “I would like to believe that he would be able to impart his pitching wisdom on a lot of those guys on how to pitch hitters, and how to pick your poison.

[WATCH: What can Soriano bring to bullpen?]

“Oftentimes, after a game, the next day, he and I would talk about the hitters he had faced, and he’d tell me what he was thinking going into the game. I was always impressed with what he saw from the bullpen.

“So beyond his ability to help us pitch and win games, he’s really good at observing and knowing what to do versus hitters. And I’d like to believe that’s going to be part of his value.”

Maddon likes to get creative with the bullpen and not do everything by the book. The manager appears to be leaning toward a closer-by-committee with some combination of Pedro Strop, Jason Motte and Hector Rondon, who’s been demoted after his struggles in the ninth inning.

Will Soriano factor into the closer’s role at some point?

“I have no idea – I honest to God don’t,” Maddon said. “I just want him to be well, and obviously get here and help us. And (then) we’ll make that determination.” 

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening


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.