Cubs shake up bullpen with James Russell and Anthony Varvaro


Cubs shake up bullpen with James Russell and Anthony Varvaro

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs shook up their bullpen on Tuesday, adding right-hander Anthony Varvaro, bringing back lefty James Russell and still feeling like they’re not done moving pieces around.

This isn’t sustainable for a team that envisions itself as a contender: The bullpen blew its fifth save in Monday night’s 10-9 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, while the rotation has accounted for only 12 quality starts through 24 games.

“We’ve let some games slip away that we could have won,” general manger Jed Hoyer said at Busch Stadium. “But that is the nature of bullpens. They can be volatile. We’ve played a sixth of the season and we’ve already had, I’d say, two good stretches and two bad stretches. We just have to even those things out a little bit.”

The Cubs claimed Varvaro off waivers from the Boston Red Sox, where he had gotten squeezed out of a bullpen that needed more of a long man. Varvaro had gone 6-4 with a 2.74 ERA and 19 holds across the previous two seasons with the Atlanta Braves.

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In corresponding moves, the Cubs placed outfielder Chris Denorfia on the disabled list, optioned right-hander Gonzalez Germen to Triple-A Iowa and designated right-hander Blake Parker for assignment.

Russell — who had been drafted and developed by the organization and traded to the Braves at last summer’s deadline — dominated at Iowa. After getting released by the Braves near the end of spring training, Russell signed a minor-league deal and put up 12 strikeouts against zero walks in 9.2 scoreless innings with Iowa.

The shape of the bullpen will change again with Justin Grimm. The question now is whether he will make a second rehab appearance with Iowa or get cleared to rejoin the Cubs after recovering from his right forearm injury.

Neil Ramirez — another hard-throwing reliever for what was supposed to be a lights-out bullpen — is scheduled to throw off a mound on Wednesday at the team’s Arizona complex as he works through right shoulder inflammation.

“Knock on wood, guys will get healthy, but it’s hard to count on that,” Hoyer said. “You have to almost assume that you’re going to be scrambling all the time, because when one guy gets healthy, a lot of times another guy might go down. I don’t think you can look forward and say: ‘When we’re healthy.’ Because that never seems to ever really happen.”

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

The changing of the guard continues for the Cubs this offseason. 

After the team hired a new hitting coach yesterday, it was reported today that they're losing a front office member: 

Rehman, who has been with the Cubs in the same position for the last seven years, will reportedly head up the Rangers' analytics department. According to the Chicago Tribune, Rehman's role was " evaluating existing systems, and recognizing and applying solutions in an effort to create competitive advantages for the organization." 

All reports indicate that he'll be doing similar analytic-based work with the Rangers. 

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis didn't go all scorched earth on the Cubs in a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, but he had quite a lot to say after being ousted by the organization after just one year as the hitting coach.

The Cubs made Davis the scapegoat for an offense that faded down the stretch, struggling for the entire second half and scoring just 1 run in three of the final four games of the year.

When he was hired a year ago, Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon talked up Davis' impressive resume that includes a 19-year MLB career, two separate stints as a successful hitting coach with the Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox and a philosophy that they hoped would withstand the test of time in the game today, preaching more contact and using the opposite field.

Throughout the 2018 season, Maddon often commended Davis for his ability to communicate with players, particularly in the area of mental approach to each at-bat.

Now that the dust has settled a bit on his firing, Davis felt he had some issues getting through to some Cubs players.

I learned a lot this year," Davis told the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer. "I learned that the next situation I get in, before I say yes to a job, I need to make sure I know the personnel I'll be dealing with in the clubhouse. I hope the next guy connects better with the players, because I felt that there were multiple players there I didn't connect with. It wasn't that I didn't try; it just wasn't there.

The Cubs hired Anthony Iapoce as their new hitting coach Monday afternoon. Iapoce comes over from the Rangers and has a direct link to John Mallee, who was the Cubs' hitting coach for three seasons before being let go when Davis became available last winter. 

Iapoce also spent three seasons with the Cubs as a special assistant to the GM, overseeing the organization's minor-league hitting from 2013-15. Presumably, he found a way over those years to connect with the Cubs' top young hitting prospects — guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras that are now leading the big-league lineup.

Hopefully he has better success at this than I did," Davis said of Iapoce in the Sun-Times article. "But regardless of who's there, certain players there are going to have to make some adjustments because the game's changed and pitchers are pitching them differently. They're not pitching to launch angles and fly balls and all that anymore. They're pitching away from that. They're going to have to make that adjustment whether I'm there or not.

Davis had a whole lot more to say on the matter and I encourage you to read the full interview with Wittenmyer over at

A healthy Bryant very likely could've changed everything for Davis and the Cubs' 2018 lineup. Contreras hitting like he's capable of in the second half would've made a huge difference, as well.

But the end result is a finish to the 2018 campaign that was viewed universally as a disappointment — particularly in the offensive department — and the Cubs are left with their third different hitting coach in three seasons.