Cubs

Cubs bullpen in flux with Pedro Strop down and Hector Rondon sidelined

Cubs bullpen in flux with Pedro Strop down and Hector Rondon sidelined

The Cubs already had a dominant closer when they made a blockbuster trade with the New York Yankees in late July. But given Hector Rondon’s Tommy John history — and the unknown severity of Pedro Strop’s injury — Aroldis Chapman might become more of a necessity than a luxury item.

Chapman unleashed his 100-mph heat on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, blowing away the Los Angeles Angels in the ninth inning with three straight strikeouts to end a 3-1 victory that might have come at a price.

Strop is now scheduled to get an MRI on his left knee on Thursday morning, and it didn’t look good in the eighth inning as he hobbled off the field, supported by a teammate and an athletic trainer. Strop slid awkwardly and felt something while trying to field the soft groundball Yunel Escobar bounced up the third-base line.

That visual creates even more uncertainty as Rondon deals with what the Cubs are calling a sore triceps. Rondon — who hasn’t pitched in a game since Aug. 2 — played catch as part of his pregame routine but manager Joe Maddon still doesn’t know exactly when his right-handed reliever will be available.

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“There’s nothing negative,” Maddon said. “He’s trending in the right direction, not the wrong direction, so that’s where my focus is right now.”

Carl Edwards Jr. bailed the Cubs out of that eighth-inning jam, striking out Mike Trout and getting groundballs against Albert Pujols and Andrelton Simmons, again showing he’s ready for prime time, especially if Rondon (18 saves, 1.70 ERA) and Strop (21 holds, 2.89 ERA) become question marks in front of Chapman.

“It would change the entire complexion of the group,” Maddon said. “It would make ‘Smitty’ (Joe Smith) more pertinent. I’m not going to beat up C.J., for sure, I know that much. Whatever’s wrong with Stropy, he’s probably not pitching tomorrow, I know that also. So, yeah, we’re going to have to look at different folks.”

Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal

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USA TODAY

Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal

Brandon Morrow hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since July 2018, but he’ll get a shot at making a comeback next season.

Morrow is set to sign a minor league deal with the Cubs, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. It’s worth $1 million if he makes the Cubs' roster and could reach $2.25 million if Morrow makes 65 big-league appearances. 

Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 15, 2018, missing the second half of that season with right biceps inflammation. He underwent a debridement procedure on his right elbow last offseason, which was supposed to keep him out for the first month of the 2019 season. But Morrow suffered several setbacks and never pitched in 2019. 

Morrow’s agent, Joel Wolfe, told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times last month that the right-hander feels a sense of loyalty to the Cubs after they stuck by him through thick and thin. He said Morrow was open to a minor league deal.

When he last pitched, Morrow was one of the most dominant closers in baseball. He posted a 1.47 ERA in 35 games in 2018, converting 22 of 24 save tries. He provided the Cubs with a power arm in the back of the bullpen, striking out 31 batters in 30 2/3 innings compared to nine walks.

For the Cubs, Morrow is a low-risk addition with high-reward potential. He told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers that his arm feels great. If he’s healthy, he could be a major contributor to the Cubs' bullpen.

This time, the Cubs won’t place such high expectations on the 35-year-old. They expect closer Craig Kimbrel to bounce back in 2020 with a normal offseason ahead of him. Kimbrel signed a three-year, $43 million deal with the Cubs last June and struggled mightily, posting a 6.53 ERA in 23 games.

If healthy, Morrow could prove to be a lethal weapon in front of Kimbrel. If he can’t stay healthy, it’s not like the Cubs are investing a lot of money in him, as they did two offseasons ago when Morrow signed a two-year, $21 million deal.

Simply put: if Morrow pans out, great. If he can’t stay healthy, the Cubs can move on without losing a large investment.

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If Rangers sign Nicholas Castellanos, it could lead them to Kris Bryant deal

If Rangers sign Nicholas Castellanos, it could lead them to Kris Bryant deal

After losing out on free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon, the Texas Rangers have spoken to agent Scott Boras about Cubs free agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.

Castellanos played third with the Detroit Tigers from 2014-17, but considering he posted a -64 Defensive Runs Saved mark in four seasons, he won’t be moving back there. Interestingly, however, Castellanos is willing to consider playing first base, according to Grant.

The Cubs — who are reportedly still pursuing Castellanos — obviously would be affected if the 27-year-old signs with Texas, as they'll lose one of their most productive players from 2019. But besides that, Castellanos landing with the Rangers would impact the Kris Bryant trade market.

The Rangers are looking for a consolation plan at third base after missing out on Rendon. They have a three-year offer on the table for Donaldson, according to Grant, and signing him would cost them only money. The same cannot be said about acquiring a third baseman via trade, like Kris Bryant, who would cost several assets.

But if Donaldson doesn’t sign with the Rangers, they might be more inclined to pursue Bryant. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said at the Winter Meetings they’ll address third base this offseason, and the Cubs' third baseman would be the best option left. That is, unless Texas calls the Rockies about Nolan Arenado.

Daniels also indicated that the Rangers are unlikely to trade for a player with only a few years of team control left (like Bryant) without making other major additions.

“There are some trade options [that] would have quite frankly made more sense in our mind if we had landed the free agents at the top of our list,” Daniels said. “I don’t love the idea of half measures. I don’t love the idea of taking a chunk out of the system if it doesn’t really make sense. Trading for somebody with a year or two of control makes more sense if the club is a little more filled out.”

So if the Rangers land Castellanos, a pursuit of Bryant could follow. But the same might also be true if they sign Donaldson, thanks to Bryant’s positional versatility.

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